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

Finding Life in a Chaotic World

There are few who find and experience the reality of a real, meaningful, hopeful, abundant, free, and full Life.

The gate to that Life is very narrow.

And the road leading there is hard to follow.

Going to church does not guarantee that kind of Life.

Saying the name of Jesus does not guarantee that kind of Life.

Reciting the sinner’s prayer does not guarantee that kind of Life.

Getting baptized does not guarantee that kind of Life.

Doing something nice for someone does not guarantee that kind of Life.

You may be the greatest and most respected “religious” person, who never misses a Sunday service, who never forgets to put money in the offering plate, or who never misses the taking of the Lord’s Supper.

But none of that guarantees that you have found Life.

True Life is only found by fully receiving the love of God and totally surrendering everything to Him.

Everything.

And one would rather die than to ever stop living in that kind of all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love.

And my guess is that most of you agree with all of that.

At least in theory.

Of course we love God with all of our hearts, minds, and souls!

Of course we would rather die than to ever stop living in that kind of all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love!

I hear you.

But here’s the kicker.

It doesn’t 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.

What is received… is meant to be given.

And that turns everything completely upside-down.

Perfect love casts away all fear.

If we receive perfect love.

If we give perfect love.

There is nothing to fear.

But fear has a massive death grip on many Christians.

We are afraid of instability.

We are afraid of tyranny.

We are afraid of “losing freedom.”

We are afraid of opposing ideologies.

We are afraid of the government.

We are afraid of “losing our rights.”

We are afraid of the government “taking our guns.”

We are afraid of the government taking our religious liberties.

We are afraid of our money becoming worthless.

We are afraid of losing our jobs.

We are afraid of “new world orders.”

We are afraid of Anti-Christ figures.

Don’t miss what I am saying here.

I am not saying that we ought not work peacefully and prayerfully to oppose those things that work against the extension of the kingdom of God in the world.

But what I am saying is that as we receive perfect love from God… we begin to realize that we have absolutely nothing to fear.

And as we give that perfect love to others… we fear nothing.

Everything else fades away.

Only perfect love remains.

And it is exquisite and beautiful.

If we would really open ourselves up to experience that kind of love, we would have no other choice than to believe that it is worth living in, giving to others, and dying for.

Because it is a better narrative.

Because it subverts the conflict.

Because it was the way we were always made to live.

Because that is what God intended for us at the very beginning.

And it is with that kind of perfect love that this life is to be lived and experienced.

Not by avoiding the conflict.

Not by praying for a “Rapture” of the church every moment.

Not by constantly begging Jesus to return and take you away to heaven.

But by gracefully and mercifully and lovingly and prayerfully walking through the conflict and chaos of life, while working toward and anticipating resolution.

The way we choose to live presently is a good indication of how we will choose to live in the future.

That is why we need to change right now.

If we aren’t living like Christ presently, when times are relatively good, then we will never live like Christ if times get really difficult in the future.

We can’t be a people content to only receive the love of God.  We have to be people who live sacrificially to extend the love of God to everyone… even in a chaotic world.

That may be hard to swallow because it confronts us with how insufficient and negligent we have been at extending the all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love of God.

Think about it.

Are you criticizing, demeaning, and devaluing the President of the United States and his policies – or – praying for him and loving him despite what actions he takes?

Do you hate the leaders whom we have been told are our enemies or whom we have been told are working against us- or- are you ignoring these voices and choosing to love our enemies the way Jesus Christ loved his enemies.

Do you find yourself getting angry with other people or people groups when you listen to right-wing or left-wing talk radio, when you watch news programs, and when you read the newspaper – or – are you tuning out and learning how to mercifully and gracefully love all people and all people groups despite their situation or circumstance?

Have your allegiance and identity become so closely aligned with the values of our country that you believe it is appropriate to kill people when they are deemed an “enemy” – or – are you on your knees seeking to better align yourself with the love and peace of Jesus toward friends and enemies alike?

Do your actions, when standing for a position on an issue (that you also happen to believe is the position of God), make you hurt, minimize, and wound individuals and people groups – or – do they heal, lift up, mend, and restore individuals and people groups in the loving, graceful, and merciful love of Christ?

Are your words and attitude toward others divisive, angry, hostile, demeaning, and devaluing when you disagree with their position or the way in which they live their lives – or – are your words and attitude always full of life, love, kindness, encouragement, and the building up of others?

We are just scratching the surface with these questions.

How does experiencing the all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love of God change every part of our lives?

I pray it is changing us in every way.

And so much that it pours out of everything we do at all times.

Let the world only know us for our all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love.

Nothing less.

Jesus is calling us out of the large spectator crowd and along the narrow pathway with him.

He wants us to surrender every ounce of our lives to follow him and his way.

He wants us to walk away from a life that is easy.

He wants us to walk away from a life that is predictable.

He wants us to walk away from a life that is comfortable.

He wants us to enter into a life of risk.

He wants us to be willing to suffer pain and alienation.

He wants us to be willing to die.

For love.

Jesus expects everything from us.

And he is asking us to not just receive God’s all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love, but to also be willing to surrender our lives in order to give it away.

That is the place where sacrifice is needed.

And it begins today for those who want to be radical disciples, so that you will be ready in times of difficulty and hardship.

Let us be a people who are not stressed, anxious, or worried in our present lives or at the first sign of turmoil, but rather let us be a people who put our entire faith and hope in a God who takes care of His children.

Let us be a people who do not let the light of righteousness burn out in our present lives or as the world continues to grow darker around us, but rather let us be a people with a renewed sense that we are to have a unified purpose together extending the righteousness of God in the present, even as things become increasingly complex and chaotic.

Let us be a people who are not just announcing a watered-down Good News message with our lips presently or becoming even more silent in the face of opposition, but rather let us be a people who understand fully and unequivocally the life-changing, world-altering reality of the Good News of the kingdom and let us be a people who announce it to the world with our words, our lives, and our all.

Let us be a people who do not run from Jesus in the face of hostility and persecution, but rather let us be a courageous people who exist for a purpose in the way we love, encourage, serve, share a meal, embrace, and give all we have to our friends, enemies, and especially to others who are losing hope.

Let us be a people who are not easily swayed by propaganda, talking heads, political leaders, or any other thing that could lead us astray presently or as times become increasingly uncertain, but rather let us be a people resolved to know Jesus so intimately, his kingdom so thoroughly, his voice so specifically, that we could never be misguided.

And let us be a people who are not sucked into the national news headlines, the talk-show venom, the political mudslinging, the divisive rhetoric, and the cultural instigation presently or in times when it will be easier to blame and hate others, but rather let us be a people so overwhelmed and full of the love of God that we would rather give our lives than not give that love away.

This piece is a modified excerpt from my book AND THEN THE END WILL COME! (www.andthentheendwillcome.com).

Peace…

Brandon

Being Jesus to Atheists, Homosexuals, and Abortionists

One Sunday we showed up at our rented church building.

Someone had spray painted a Nazi swastika on the front of the building.

We didn’t pay much attention to it as it looked like the work of some foolish children.

But after a couple of weeks the swastika was still there.

I heard some people in our church musing over an idea to use spray paint to turn the swastika into a cross.

I didn’t pay much attention to the idea.

I thought everyone was just having fun with ways to “redeem” a terrible symbol.

I didn’t think they were serious.

However, a few days later I was riding my bike passed our building, I noticed that, sure enough, the swastika had been transformed into a cross.

With the word “love” written beside it.

I didn’t say anything about it.

But I did not like what had been done.

As I anticipated, my fears came to fruition.

I returned back to the building later in the week to find that the word “NAZI” had been spray-painted on the building again.

And this time along the entire front of the building.

Including the windows.

This was retaliation for our naive move.

Lesson learned.

Violence begets more violence.

Even when it is just spray paint.

Here’s the point.

When we respond to people in the same way they treat us… the vicious cycle begins.

One group tries to rise above the other group.

Tit-for-tat.

Eye for eye.

Tooth for tooth.

Retaliating.

Responding.

Escalating.

This approach creates more hostility and divisiveness and antagonism and conflict.

This approach NEVER changes hearts.

It may change behavior for a bit.

But it NEVER changes hearts.

It just embitters and callouses and hardens and begs for retaliation.

The cycle never ends.

Unless someone stops the cycle.

And that someone has to be us.

The followers of Christ.

The proclaimers and extenders of the kingdom.

Our way must be the lowly and humble and meek and loving and blessed and non-retaliating approach of our Christ.

Our way must be the way of Christ, the peacemaker.

No other way will do.

Because when one submits in love… the cycle stops.

That’s the way of Jesus.

And it has to be our way as well- to atheists, to homosexuals, to evolutionists, to members of different political ideologies, to abortionist, and anyone else we perceive as “fighting us” or “waging war against us” or “jamming their agenda down our throats.”

It is only the way of Jesus and the kingdom that changes hearts and changes minds.

And it is that way that will eventually change the world.

But that is the true dilemma.

How will we ever respond to real affliction and persecution in the way of Jesus and his kingdom… if we neglect the way of Jesus and his kingdom when other people simply inconvenience us or frustrate us?

How will we ever love someone who beats us and is trying to crush us… when we don’t even love those who simply make fun of Christianity with their words?

How will we ever bless someone who imprisons us… when we don’t even bless the atheist who says God doesn’t exist?

How will we ever humbly and lovingly serve someone who takes everything from us… when we don’t even serve those who try to remove “In God We Trust” from our currency, who try to remove the Ten Commandments from public property, who keep Creationism out of the public school system, or who try to keep prayer out of school? 

How will we ever say “Father forgive them” about someone who kills our loved ones… when we don’t even ask God to forgive someone who paints our church building or who steals something belonging to our church?

How will we ever be entrusted and given more of this kingdom to extend… if we can’t even be trusted with a little?

The truth is that we have a lot of kingdom to discover and embody before we will ever be prepared for anything that resembles “End Times” affliction.

For if we are not like Jesus when times are relatively easy, there is no way we will ever be like him if our lives grow increasingly difficult and hostile.

This text is a modified excerpt from AND THEN THE END WILL COME! (www.andthentheendwillcome.com)

peace…

brandon