If Luke Wrote About Your Church

In our small group leadership training plan, we ask the question, if Luke were alive today to write about the impact and effects of the Gospel in your community, what would he say?

Some Context

When Luke wrote the second chapter of the book of Acts, he began it with the spectacular inauguration of his new family. The Holy Spirit of God, full of divine delight, was freed to accomplish what he had ached to do for millennia past — to fall upon us and sweep us up into wedded bliss and power and union with Jesus. The church was consummated and what a celebration it was; complete with heavenly wind, fire, and good news proclamation in all languages. In fact, it was such a powerful and joyous occasion, some hardened onlookers thought Jesus’ bride was drunk!

Then, Luke writes in Acts 2:42-47 about the happiness of the bride and her honeymoon as it were in those first weeks of her union with Christ. Look at how filled-up she is with the mission and heartbeat of Jesus and look at some of the things Luke celebrates:

  • They eagerly devoted themselves to hearing and learning more about their groom with the apostles’ teaching.
  • They shared all that they could with each other and invested their earthly resources in each other.
  • They spent time together and invited others to join them.
  • They were in the marketplace telling the Good News message through selling items of value and property for the benefit of others. (quite possibly at inopportune times to sell their goods for the “highest value” for themselves just to be able to benefit others.)
  • They praised and adored God both publicly and privately. Worship became integral and contagious.
  • They ate meals together in Jesus’ name.
  • They were socially winsome and found favor among all the people.
  • They were welcoming in whatever they did in their homes (house-to-house). So, their homes became centers for community and moved away from being personal castles.
  • They saw answers to their prayers abounding as the Holy Spirit delighted to shower them with love through his special signs and wonders.
  • There was no line or barrier between “my church life” and “my regular life”.

Did you notice how different these things were from the first part of chapter 2? Married couples don’t have a wedding ceremony every day. Luke is highlighting how ordinary life with Jesus was filled-up with purpose and power that stretched into the spiritual and the eternal. The church is not dating Jesus in a paramour relationship. No, He is her everything.

Back to the Question

Now, how much do we recognize the integral and united nature we have with Christ while living in our communities? You see, our goal is not to replicate what the early church experienced in Luke’s list. If we do that, we turn our marriage relationship with Jesus into something mechanical and heavy by thinking that if we can just copy what they did, “church will work!”

Instead, Jesus will orchestrate all kinds of new gospel gestures, sacrifices, activities, and rewards to impact your community right where you are. So, imagine if Luke was walking around your church this month.

• How would he celebrate the gospel happening among you?

What might he write in his list to show how Jesus is orchestrating the impact of the gospel in YOUR everyday lives?

This is a great exercise to do right now personally and/or in a group of friends. If you sense that Luke wouldn’t have much to say, then you might be experiencing more of a cultural Christianity than a vibrant, communal, gospel-fueled Christianity. At that point, it would be wise to evaluate if you really understand the gospel and especially the Ascension of Jesus. And, it would be wise to deeply ask what has been radically transformed in your life and the lives of your church community. What can we celebrate as evidence of the gospel in action?

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Life as Extraordinary

A little catch-up:

It has been a while since I have sat down and written here at HM. Some have asked me when I would start again. All I can say to that effect is that I have eagerly desired each and every day to write something I’ve newly discovered in this glorious gospel to share with you. However, over the last couple of years, ministry life and responsibilities have dramatically increased for me which has netted the result of a high desire to share and a low output rate. I hope to match the two a bit more this coming year and that all of it will be a blessing and encouragement to you.

Now for some cibo (food) in the gospel and community

There is a line of thought which is often expressed in our churches from well-intentioned Christians (at least in Europe) that goes something like this:

I can’t do very much for God, and I don’t have much to offer God:

  • I’m not wealthy.
  • I’m not a leader.
  • I’m not talented.
  • I am timid.
  • I don’t have time like others do.
  • I’m not as smart as others.
  • I’m more of a private person.
  • My career prohibits me.
  • Nobody listens to me.

What our friends are expressing is an exaggeration of the ordinary; living with the gospel at an unreachable distance. The main problem with allowing our inner voice to talk like this is twofold.

First, it is poor theology which puts pressure on the mind and heart to try to generate something useful for God. Grace does not work that way. We do not generate-up good works in the hope that they will be something profitable that will satisfy God. In fact, this kind of thinking causes us to feel like we are never doing enough. God is rarely, if ever, happy with me. Instead, a true Christian is provided every day with the fountain of grace and providential goodness to live in the glory of Christ who gives his child good works to walk in (Eph. 2:10). For example, yes, it may be that God opens the door for you to visit with a neighbor about Jesus and grace, but it is also a God-glorifying work to respond with patience when your children won’t get ready for school in time during a hurried morning. Both situations require the Gospel and both are an opportunity — not to generate-up something useful — but to give-up something glorious back to the Lord who guided you into that very situation.

Second, this negative response creates a sense of desperation or fatalism because it is a response based too much on the circumstance of today and not governed by the reality of Jesus over us now and for eternity. Simply, this kind of thinking is poor theology because it denies who we are in Christ Jesus now, and who we are becoming in Christ Jesus tomorrow.

Applying the extra to the ordinary

holy_spirit1Here is how we need to help each other “get back to” the gospel and live it. In Acts 2, we see the marriage ceremony of Jesus to his bride. He brings his church into himself and collocates her to himself in Heaven before the Father. This is the privileged position of being united together in Christ.  The temple veil was torn and God the Holy Spirit is rushing out to indwell his people from all over the world! The physical sign of this was the beautiful manifestation of the flaming tongues of fire and the good news invitation of Jesus shared across the languages. These fire-tongues were both sign and signal that his people were now in him, and if Jesus is the new temple then they are also representative temples with the specific presence of God in them.

The follow-on results in Acts 2:42-47 do not strike us as spectacularly as the first wonders do in the early verses with the rushing winds and hovering flames of fire. No, on the contrary, we see people are doing quite ordinary things but with a completely new position and perspective. Yes, there are signs and wonders, but Luke does not elaborate on those and seems to emphasize the Christians’ desire to know more about Jesus, to praise Jesus both publicly and privately, to share food by eating together in Jesus’ name, to sell their possessions for those in need, and to invest in caring gestures toward each other. It is still Jesus directing his church, but he is not doing it through human greatness or achievement. Rather, he is guiding his church through service and care.
And here is the delightful response of Jesus to his bride as they live this ordinary-extraordinary life of the gospel:

And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:47

So, the point for true Christians (I’m not speaking about cultural Christians) is that the reality of being married to Christ is the same for us today as it was for the early church. We are directly under and in the temple-reign of the Lord Jesus — right now.

Therefore, when we hear each other say that we can’t do much for God, we must be active to remind and challenge each other that — you say you cannot do much for God, but what you must see is that if you are in Christ, every thing you do is already done for God! Yes, each ordinary thing is given to you by Jesus. You think you have a powerless, ordinary life because of what you feel you can or cannot achieve. However, you have an extraordinary life not based on what you do, but based on who you are — on who Jesus has made you to be.

You simply have a choice to make in every action and circumstance. You will have to decide whether you will acknowledge that, “…this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” and give it back to the Lord Jesus in honor for his glory or whether you will claim it for yourself. But if we can see that God’s mission is not simply “out there“, but rather, being providentially directed from “in Him in here“, it is truly extraordinary to think of what Jesus will do with our ordinary-extraordinary lives when we care for him and for each other in this gospel-centered way. The challenge is to realize and appropriate who you are in him — right here & right now.

We took a Love Quiz

ImageWe hold a regular, missonal lunch gathering with our ministry partners called Converge. At one of our recent gatherings, we took a ministry-evaluation quiz based on the theme of Love: being other-centered. Our results were stellar! – mixed. And I think we have a very loving and serving group of people. Yet, when we sat down and just asked ourselves questions about how we take on the responsibility for others on a daily basis, there was a sense of disappointment.

The quiz had 8 questions. All of them dealt with every day rhythms like eating, repairing, helping, feeling responsible for others, discussing time and money, making decisions, and sharing resources. And a few of the responses were simply, “Our Gospel community just doesn’t want to engage with each other, what do we do?” And we talked all about it even though I could sense the frustration, disappointment, and confusion of what to do next.

I know that many who minister with people in community will face this same struggle, so it makes for a great minestrone. Here are 2 fundamental things to keep in mind and heart that will bring delight into your ministry of love toward others:

  1. Model It — A loving gospel community is only loving because its servant-leaders have already known the love of Jesus deeply in their own hearts. There is no. possible. way. that the true Gospel doesn’t get into our hearts and leave us indifferent toward others around us at the same time. Here’s a touch of spice for the minestrone: Christians with no urgency or affection for others are selfish and wasting time. Therefore, a loving gospel community begins with you channeling the love of Jesus for you — right into the lives and families where you live. See Philippians 2:1-4
  2. Intentionalize It — I’m “verbing a noun” here. Intentionalize isn’t in the dictionary but good preachers regularly make up new words and infuse them with meaning, right? (but first, you have to be a good preacher  ;-). I mentioned earlier that the “love questions” on the quiz covered daily life things. And I think that understanding reflects Jesus so much. He walked in towns, sat at meals, built stuff, touched the sick, hugged kids, washed feet, caught fish, and made breakfast for the night crew. God showed us the way to love — ordinary people doing every day things with Gospel intentionality. Jesus said to his often-selfish community, “As I have loved you (washed your feet and all the other daily things for the last 3 years), love one another in the same way.” (John 13). So, intentionalize Jesus right into the middle of your ordinary, daily activity for others.

Warning:  Others will catch this because it’s highly contagious.

Missional Messiness

In a couple of our recent training sessions, we have been discussing the subject of missional hospitality. And, commonly, we hit the deep and scandalous topic of how clean should your house be when hosting other people?  On the surface, this does not seem like a problem until we start reflecting more on our motivations both for and against a cleaner casa.

Some Good Questions

welcome to our formerly clean houseHere are some of the questions we asked, and I might add that they are good conversation developers:

  1. How much cleaning is enough in our cultural context for people to feel at home and not be distracted? (for example, northern Italians are fastidiously clean by nature. Sometimes, this is greatly appreciated, and at other times, one can feel quite awkward.)
  2. How much cleaning is necessary to be tidy and yet not cross the line of presenting an artificial, sterilized, and even hypocritical version of ourselves?
  3. How much cleaning reflects a performance-to-impress attitude where we simply become Martha in our own home and miss all of the good worship of Jesus? Is genuine hospitality a dinner party or something much more familiar?
  4. How should we respond when the little humans (children-unleashed) make a mess or break something in our homes?
  5. Do other people know where you keep your utensils, serving items, and tools? And do they have access to them?

A Key Principle

Don’t allow grace and mission to be hindered over a standard of sanitation. Martha couldn’t choose ‘the better meal’ because she was hindered in her hospitality. And a Pharisee was revealed as a fool because he failed to clean his “house” properly; his mission was himself, not grace. Luke 11:37-41

In the ministry here (Serenissima), our Gospel communities are called LifeTeams. And because we are seeking to share more and more life together, a LifeTeam is all about making a missional mess. Often, Christian community is simply a mess-on-mission. Somehow when the mess comes, however, the graciousness of God is mysteriously revealed and people can rest their souls and feel more at home than in their own houses. And that’s the beginning of missional hospitality; the use of our homes as temples to God and not to ourselves.

So, how clean should our house be when hosting other people? As clean as necessary for Jesus to be seen. And that could mean letting the little humans be loved as little humans, as well as re-humbling ourselves in the whole idea of putting on a production when someone comes through our front door. For some (and we have experienced this too), it might mean a bit more effort to recognize the missional context of people with which they are working. With a nip of hyperbolic language here, leaving an un-emptied, cat-litter box in the middle of the room where you are sharing Christ — honestly — might be a distraction to some. It’s just an observation, but I don’t think I’m out of my sand-box on this one.

Missional Giving through Repentance, Underwear, & WeBay

Wild truth. That’s the description that comes to mind when I study John the wilderness prophet. John was called the forerunner or way-preparer of the coming Messiah. Radical was his message; radical was his baptism. While forms of immersion and washing were practiced in the temple, John’s baptism was one of total devotion, never having to be repeated. It was all about cleansing and transformation.

Repentance

Yet, to be ready for the Kingdom, to recognize the Messiah when he would arrive, repentance was necessary. John preached, therefore, that a sign of this internal-transformation was how a person conducted themselves toward money and toward others. A person who would look like the coming Messiah would be content with what God was giving them and they would share what they had. In other words, they would be predisposed to looking-out for the needs of others. This would be a sign of Gospel generosity.

Underwear

Tunics

John preaches with earnest, earthy language. He is in the stuff of life to show men their need. One of these earthy illustrations is found in the hulag, or the tunic which was the common undergarment that everyone wore. It wasn’t the most important garment, it was the most basic and most needed

There’s a great description about what a tunic was and how it was worn here and here.

“The tunic was a shirt that was worn next to the skin. It was made out of leather, haircloth, wool, or linen. Both sexes wore tunics but they was a difference in the style and pattern. For men, the tunic came down to the knees and was fastened at the waist by a girdle of leather or cloth. Female tunics were very similar to the males, but went down to their ankles.” – Heather Breining in the article link above.

John says, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none…” (Luke 3:11)

Now, let’s be practical here and ask ourselves, “If we have ample supply of our basic needs, how are we supposed to know who has a tunic and who doesn’t?” At least three simple answers to that question come to mind:

  1. The need of a tunic became obvious when someone was wrapped up with an outer garment only. They would be hiding both their shame and their cold. My guess is that there were people cloaking their needs in the very crowd John was speaking to. Messiah would be looking for those basic needs to be met.
  2. Therefore, we have to be close enough to people to be able to observe and comprehend their needs. We need to be involved enough with people where we can see the neckline of their T-shirts and that’s a way to say “eye-to-eye”. The church must function in close, caring, and discreet community.
  3. And then, we need to share our abundance with others in need. The Messiah-community can no longer support the excuse that says, “Well, all the people around me aren’t that needy.” Or, “I don’t know anybody who has basic needs like that.” If that’s what we commonly tell ourselves, then we need to get some new friends for Jesus’ sake! The Good News is a generous news. The Gospel will work against hoarding. We should cringe and ache in our spirits when we find ourselves with amply more-than-enough and nobody else to care for at the same time.

WeBay

Webay_logo

Because we all struggle with this, our Messiah-community practices what is called WeBay. I use the word “practice” because it’s a Gospel-principle more than it is a place. The WeBay was invented about 10 years ago to dedicate an area of our ministry center to the exchange of tunics. We ask people that if they have any items of value and abundance to bring them and freely place them on the WeBay (a series of shelves and racks for organization etc). We have had tens-of-thousands of euros worth of clothes go through there. We’ve seen kitchen supplies, shoes, motor oil, cleaners, couches, desks, beds, and even some skis all make their way through the gospel generosity filter. So far, no children or elderly parents have been donated but a few turtles came through once (and almost landed at my house).

The principles for WeBay are simply to freely give (let-go!), freely take (meet your need), and freely give again (take something and meet other’s needs). This activity and practice is so healthy both to the giver and the recipient! What I’m pleading for in this post is that there has to be some avenues for giving that we regularly utilize to work through our abundance and our repentance at the same time. When the majority of the church is practicing this, it adds fabulous flavor to the minestrone. 

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Green Gate: A Pilgrim Minestra

 

Greengatehouse

 

I frequently use the word “minestra” interchangeably for the concept of community. The idea is a community in the mix of life. With that in mind, each year I read something new about the Separatists of the 1600’s known as the Pilgrim Fathers. And, with today being Thanksgiving, I learned about a Pilgrim Minestra that I thought would go well for this blog.

The band of Separatists were led by a pastor named John Robinson. The Robinsons would travel to Leyden (Holland) to seek religious freedom from penalty and persecution. As their young family arrived in Leyden, one of the great burdens they encountered was to have a place where their community could share life together. Here is a description of their deep Christian community at a special place called Green Gate:

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The Meeting Fixation

Circleofchairs
I recently posted about thepulpit fixationwhere churches practice the great majority of their ministry from the pulpit — to the exclusion of operational Christian community. In this post, my thought goes to another ministry extreme that we’ve encountered among small groups. That tendency is to say that as long as we have “small or home group meetings” all of the ministry is being done through those meeting times. And that leads us to this important point: what we have is a meeting fixation to the exclusion of life lived together in Christian community.

The benefit of small group meetings is that they are another opportunity along-the-way of missional community life that is lived all week long. The default tendency is to put all of the emphasis onto the event of the meeting and to load all of the ministry into a 2-3 hour block of time together. NO, beware of doing that. Jesus is the King, not an event or program we’re running.

Again, the small, gospel community meeting at a home is meant to give people a friendly, family-time with Jesus. We can think of it as a rally point within the week that intentionally eats and shares both the Word and life together. Another way to say this is that a small group meeting is one of the numerous ways that we share life together throughout the week — not the only way. A meeting can richly assist our relationships to grow more deeply, but it is too short to have the necessary face-to-face and foot-washing time that spiritual friendships really need. Our friendships and Christian communities need the Bible coursing through them in a thousand different ways.