Church Around the Table

My wife suggested that we have “church” at home this past Sunday.  I love it when she suggests that. We haven’t done it much, but each time it has been something special.

There is just something really sweet and simple about our family gathering around the dinner table to talk about our faith, to share our hearts and our stories, and to give examples of how God is working in each of our lives.

Of course we currently don’t have high expectations of Will, our three year old. Just last week he told us he knew what God looked like.  After we inquired as to what God looks like he replied, “Well, God has pink hair.”  From the mouth of babes, right?

But for our girls, 15 and 12, this is an amazing opportunity for my wife and I to shepherd them with our words and example, while teaching and encouraging them in the way of Christ. It’s not that we do not do this on a daily basis already, because we do. It’s just that when we intentionally gather around the table for the sole purpose of discussing our faith, there is a level of intimacy and depth that we may otherwise miss. It’s so easy to get caught up in the rat race and to only have daily superficial conversations with each other in passing… without ever truly getting beneath the surface to discuss those things that really matter, those things of substance, those things of the heart, those things of the Spirit.

So I began by asking the questions each of us would answer. What gifts and talents has God given you and how are you using them? As you examine your heart, in what areas of your life do you need to “deny yourself and pick up your cross daily” in order to be more like the example of Christ?

As we went around the table, each of us looked inward and shared with profound vulnerability. We talked about the way God had wired each of us so differently. We listened as each person spoke about the talents by which God had blessed us. We even encouraged each other by mentioning other gifts or attributes we could see in that person.

It was a beautiful thing… each person feeling loved and cared for.

Then we began to look introspectively at the ways we had fallen short of God’s glory. Each person opened up doors of the heart that had previously been locked, exposed dark areas that had been hidden from the light. We shared about our self-centeredness, our lack of grace to others, our bitterness when wronged by others, and our reluctance in caring about the feelings of others.

Our confessions to each were real and raw. They cut to the heart and exposed all the ways we had easily remained hidden from each other. They even brought us closer together, as we discovered things about each other that we had not previously known. We even walked away knowing how to pray for each other more intimately. There wasn’t a hint of judgment or self-righteousness. There was compassion and healing and unity in our shared brokenness and we knew in these moments God was doing something amazing for our family. We were each moving from places of personal, individualized faith to a place of a shared, relational, and communal faith as a family.

And it was in this, our time together around the table this past Sunday, that I saw something I didn’t quite expect… I caught a glimpse of the future church.

It’s a church that continues to find ways to center around Christ and disciple one another in smaller, more intimate, more relationally connected ways.  In fact, it is precisely these characteristics that will become the defining hallmarks of the future church.

One only has to look at the trajectory of our culture to realize that people are starving for meaning, purpose, substance, real and intimate relationships, and a place to unpack all of the burdens they have been carrying around. This cultural trajectory affects every age demographic, but it is the most pronounced and is having the greatest impact on younger generations.

I just met with a young man the other day who has been contemplating suicide. He is a regular church attendee. He is actively involved serving at his church. All outward signs look good, but yet he is silently wrestling with the demons of suicide.

It is examples like this, and I have witnessed many over the years, that continues to prove to me that the church of the future will be one that gathers together more intimately (and less formally) to talk about our faith, to share our hearts and our stories, to honestly discuss our heartaches, burdens, and struggles, and to give examples of how God is working in each of our lives.

The church of the future is a place where the playing field is made level and everyone (pastors, elders, lay-people, and seekers) realize that we are all sinners, that we all need to bare our hearts and souls to each without fear, and that we all need the encouraging words, love, prayers, and care of others.

The church of the future is one that is raw and bare bones in its vulnerability and honesty, and also renown for its depth and hunger for Christ. It is a church that lacks pretense, judgment, and self-righteousness and simply allows people to come together around a table, to roll up their sleeves, and to speak with an honest heart in pursuit of the healing, mending, and restoration of God… even if laced with a few F-Bombs or coming from someone who is high off the street.

The table of Christ always has room and there is always an empty seat of invitation to everyone.

It’s only in this non-sterile, unvarnished, and truth-seeking place of meeting where the sick (all of us) can meet together with the doctor. It’s only in this place where the doors of our hearts will be unlocked, and where the dark places that we have so easily hidden from each other will finally be exposed to the light.

The church of the future is around a table- breaking bread and taking the cup together. And it is in this place where we move from a personal, individualized faith to a place of shared, relational, and communal faith as a family.

That is what my family taught me this past Sunday.

Peace…

Brandon

This is My Body Given For You (Kind of)

This Good Friday I would like to offer some thoughts and a challenge to you about the death of Christ.

The typical Christian thought of Christ’s Passion is that it was something done “for us.”

And that is the foundation of Christianity: that Christ was given sacrificially over to death so as to atone for the sins of humanity and bridge the divide between God and man.

It was in that sacrificial act that God moved decisively in history and did something “for us.”

We didn’t reach this conclusion by happenstance, for Jesus himself asserted that he was giving his broken body for each one of us.

In fact, we can still hear the echo of Jesus’ pronouncement during his final meal just moments before he would be arrested, beaten, and crucified, “This is my body, given for you.”

So while we, as Christians, have been on solid footing in our understanding that the death of Christ was something done on our behalf, I would propose that the pronouncement of Jesus is something more than any of us have ever imagined- not just something done “for us,” but also as something being done through us by God as well.

“This my body, given for you,” is not simply a statement continually reminding us of who Jesus was and what he did.  It is also a declaration of what his Body (the Church) will continue to do.

And the implications of this larger understanding have the potential to breathe fresh life into the Church, but more importantly- to change the world.

It is a step forward from a position of being perpetual recipients and into a position of being recipients and then extenders.

This is captured nicely in the parable of the servants.

Three servants were each given something.

Two of the servants extended what they had been given.

One servant held onto what was generously given and extended nothing.

It was this foolish servant who was reprimanded for not extending what had been given.

The lesson for each of us is: what we have been freely given… we ought to freely extend.

As Christ’s body was given for us… we have become his Body in order to give ourselves for others.

As was the pattern and shape of Christ being broken and poured out for us, so we become the Body of Christ by allowing ourselves to be broken open and our blood poured out for the world.

And becoming his Body means that we take on the exact pattern and shape of his life, with a willingness and determination to even go to our death in order to demonstrate God’s radical love.

But doing this confronts every way we have fought against truly being his body, broken for the world.

Christ’s body would not stand up and fight… his body would lie down in surrender.

Christ’s body would not break people down… his body would allow itself to be broken for the world.

Christ’s body would not seek to be exalted… his body would be ridiculed among the sinners.

Christ’s body would not be self-righteous… his body would be meek and humble.

Christ’s body would not be accusing or condemning… his body would be gentle and empathetic.

Christ’s body would not be legislating morality… his body would be teaching and demonstrating a higher way and extending grace.

Christ’s body would not be shunning sinners… his body would be washing their feet.

Christ’s body would not be casting people aside… his body would be joining them where they are at.

Christ’s body would not be pronouncing judgment… his body would be defending the cause of the weak, the poor, and the oppressed.

Christ’s body would not be casting stones… his body would be making peace.

Christ’s body would not be sitting at the exclusive table for the religious… his body would be sitting among the outcasts and sinners.

Christ’s body would not be despising and hating… his body would be loving.

In the same way that Christ embodied the beauty, richness, and fullness of God’s generous mercy, forgiveness, love, and grace by becoming the least of these… so ought his Body on earth right now.

But the truth is that we are all too eager to unconditionally receive God’s love, grace, forgiveness, mercy, and all-consuming love… but painfully conditional or absent in extending it.

But guess what?

It’s not ours to give.  It’s God’s.

And we have been generously entrusted with what God has given us so as to further extend it.

God’s full expression was on display in the body of Jesus Christ… and nothing short of that ought to be on display through the Body of Christ in the world today.

What we have been lavished in and showered with… flows freely.

And that’s where real Life is found- giving ourselves, our lives, our bodies for others.

While it is true that we, as Christians, would rather die than to ever stop living in God’s all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love.

It can not stop there.

This all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love is not simply meant to be received.

It is meant to be given as well.

And here is what that means.

It means that we would rather die than to ever stop giving that kind of all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love.

Again, what is received… is meant to be given.

On this Good Friday as we join our Savior at his table… let us join him in his proclamation to all of the world, “This is my body, given for you.”

Peace…

Brandon

let those without sin…

The religious scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, “Jesus, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. The law gives orders to stone such a person. What do you say?”

Looking at the woman and considering the words of the religious leaders, Jesus looked at the woman and said, “How troubling.” He then picked up the first stone and threw it at her.

If you have ever read John 8 you know that is not what happened.

 

Instead, Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When the religious scholars kept questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

Later Jesus told the religious scholars, “You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.”

This story could just as easily be written today as it was two millennia ago. The news headlines and Twitter world have been ablaze as a couple of Christian leaders who believe they are the arbiters of God’s judgment against the evil-doers and “heretics” of the world.

In a recent flap ordained Southern Baptist minister and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee commented on an out-of-wedlock pregnancy of Oscar-winner Natalie Portman. Huckabee said, “one of the things that’s troubling is that people see a Natalie Portman or some other Hollywood starlet who boasts of, ‘Hey look, you know, we’re having children, we’re not married, but we’re having these children, and they’re doing just fine.’”

The Twitter world was on complete fire a couple of weeks ago as John Piper, senior pastor at Bethlehem Baptist church in Minneapolis, Minnesota wrote, “Farewell, Rob Bell” in regards to Bell’s new book, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.” Despite the fact that the book has STILL not been released, Piper prematurely concluded that the message of the book was one of Universalism and subsequently disbarred Bell from Christianity. Others who HAVE read advance copies of the book say it is not a message of Universalism.

I believe both Huckabee and Piper believe they are sincerely trying to follow Christ but there is a disturbing similarity in how they view others who are “outside” of their version of the truth…even when their version of truth many times does not look like or align with the way, life, and teachings of Jesus. The way they convey their version of the truth comes across more like the judgmental and arrogant ways of the religious scholars and Pharisees than Jesus. It is a way of being quick to label, discount, minimize, belittle, and ostracize people when they are believed to be outside of their own perceived religious orthodoxy.

Let me be quick to say that I am far from perfect myself. I am not speaking from on high about these men. I am simply asking them…and all of us who claim to follow Christ…to use more wisdom and discernment before making off-handed comments about people or comments to people. Each one of us ought to be asking ourselves whether or not our words and actions come across more like the judgmental religious scholars who are quick to cast the first stone or as the non-judging and loving servant of the world…Jesus.

 

If we claim to follow the one who does not judge…we ought not be those who judge either. We have not been called to be the religious moral police who should arrest, convict, and make a lesson out of the wretched sinners of the world. We have not been asked to take the position on high to let the lowly heathens know they have trespassed against the law and the most high God. And we have not been asked to give up on a world that is going to “hell-in-a-hand-basket” because the sinners cannot measure up to “our religious standards.”

A follower of Christ ought not behave or be viewed as a religious neo-Pharisee who gets stirred up into a frenzy about the sinfulness and waywardness of the world and then who quickly picks up the condemning stone of judgment. Rather, a follower of Christ ought to be quick in grace and love, quick to develop relationships and walk beside people no matter who they are, and quick to pick up the self-sacrificial towel of Jesus and serve everyone- even the worst of the worst. Was that not who Jesus himself loved and served? Was it not those who had been cast out by society AND by the religious system? We, as followers of Christ, must realize that we are as much the unworthy sinners as anyone else and there is no room for self-righteousness, arrogance, or judgment.

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why we in the Church are so afraid of extending love and grace to those whom we disagree with? Do you believe that God is going to punish you for extending love and grace to those “who don’t deserve it?” If that is the case then God ought to be mad at Jesus for doing the exact same thing! Or, has God made you the sole protector of “orthodoxy” and given you the responsibility of being his bulldog? I think Jesus was the embodiment of “orthodoxy” yet he still found a way to live in humility, grace, and love. Ought that not be our way as well? I wonder if God is all about us getting every single detail right and making people feel hated and worthless in the process…or is all about us giving grace even when we don’t completely agree with someone and then loving them despite who they are or what they have done. I don’t have to be right about every single detail…but I do have to love.

The truth is that the highest standard that Jesus gave us was to love God with all of our heart, mind, and soul and to love others as ourselves. That means EVERYONE! If Jesus was willing to risk extending love and grace to each of us who didn’t deserve it…are we not willing to risk extending love and grace to others as well?

Let us be the people who are not off-handed in our reaction and comments about others…but who walk in grace and love to demonstrate and teach the world the best and highest ways of Jesus. Let us be the kind of people who seek truth together but do it in a way that shows humility, grace, and love along the way.

peace…

brandon