Honesty time. This post will take a very different style to anything I have written because this is about me personally. Over the past year I have had a pretty trying time emotionally and spiritually. There have been major ups and major downs along the way. I find myself now not really on a new journey, but one that I am on nonetheless. One that I am excited about. But first a little background:
Since I was 5 I could not wait to go to church on Sunday. I would wake my dad early in the morning, all dressed in my Sunday suit to ask what time we were leaving for church. If he said we weren’t going that day I would walk 1km to my friend’s house and catch a ride with them. When we did go I always hoped to be able to go with my dad, who was an elder, to the back room where all the elders and deacons met with the pastor before the service. I loved this more than anything else. I felt like I was part of the special inner-workings of the church.
For 26 years I was a committed Sunday Christian. I basically did almost every job you could think of in the church system.
I worked the parking lot.
I cleaned the toilets.
I managed the resource table.
I caught the slain.
I packed the chairs and swept the floors.
I played in the band.
I lead worship.
I made coffee. I made really good coffee.
I attended prayer meetings.
I led small groups.
I wrote books.
I founded a ministry.
I preached at conferences and churches in 6 different countries.
I was chosen to serve on leadership teams.
I had job offers from churches.
I did outreach into the community.
I taught Sunday school.
The one thing I never did though, was plant a church or pastor it. And I actually came pretty close… But then, about 7 months ago I stopped being a ‘Sunday Christian’ if I can put it like that. I have not been to a Sunday service since, and currently don’t really plan on going anytime soon.
This didn’t of course just happen over night and in the course of my transition major bridges were burned with very close relationships and connections I have built in the past. Granted some of the bridge-burning helped me make my choice to forgo the Sunday service. But to this day I am saddened when I think of those people, to the relationships lost for now. My heart will always be for their dreams to be fulfilled, even if we don’t currently walk side by side as we once did. We each did what we thought right at the time when I made the choice to search for a different expression of church. Words were spoken, some in anger, some in frustration and some in regret, and in the end the relationships ended. Badly.
Since then I have gone through stages of being critical and angry, at myself, at the leaders I had a falling out with, at church in general, at God even in someways. Did I say things that I regret during these times? Of course. And since I have a rather public voice it means what I said travelled pretty far and that unfortunately has led to some people thinking I no longer value local church. Nothing could be further from the truth. But it also didn’t help the possibility of mending those burned bridges anytime soon…
Then about 4 months ago I was invited along to a home group meeting, a small group of one of the bigger churches here in Hong Kong. The people I met there have become like family to me in these few short months. And contrary to what some might think, I am very committed to my local church. I have never attended their corporate Sunday service, and like I said I am not planning to anytime soon. I still have things to work out…
We meet in a building (a house is a building after all) every week and we sing and share teachings, we talk, discuss, laugh and cry. We bring testimonies, share prayer requests and food. Oh do we eat! I have found a community of believers who actually do life together, who desire real, honest and transparent relationships. They loved me even with the baggage I came with. They actually loved me despite the baggage I came with. They knew my story, they knew what happened in the past year. They knew how I felt about church at that time. Yet they opened their arms, their homes, their lives and said, come in, and come find yourself again.
To such love I can be committed. To such acceptance I can not add. They might not know it, but they restored in me a hope I thought lost. And more than that, maybe beyond what they actually realise, they are a very real expression of what I now believe church is really meant to be.
I no longer hold any grudges against the people with whom I had a falling out during my transition. I am no longer angry. I forgive them. I bless them. I pray that grace and peace be multiplied to them. And if it ever happens that our bridges may be restored, I will welcome it gladly and I will be overjoyed. We will most probably still define certain things differently and place more value in different things, but we are family nonetheless and I love them regardless.
To those who have walked beside Rensia and I during this time knowing a little more about what was going on, thank you for your prayers, emails, calls, advice, council and love. We love and appreciate you all more than you know.
So as I continue on my journey outside of the typical Sunday church I will share what I find, what I see and what I experience, as I have always done through this blog. Perhaps not always as personal, I don’t know. I also might not see things the same as many of my friends who still go to Sunday church and that is actually ok by me. We might strongly disagree and on certain topics and we might strongly agree on others. Even in disagreement nobody needs to end relationships. If we have to agree to disagree, then lets rather do that than destroy the relationship.
So to end, my message is not one that is anti-local church. My message is Christ and Him crucified, as it has been and will always be. So when you read what I might write, I pray you will realize I am now more for local church than I ever was in the 26 years before. I do not plan to write much about church in general, and I also don’t like to make the distinction between organic church and institutional church as others prefer to do. But I will make distinctions between freedom and religion. I also understand that one man’s freedom might look like religion or rebellion to another, but that is a story for another time…
“The free person in Christ and the rebellious will always look the same to those who labor under religious obligation, because both ignore the conventions that govern men and women. But there is a major difference between the two. The rebel does it to serve himself and his passions, always harming others in the process and leaving a wake of anarchy behind him. The free person in Christ, however, does so because they no longer have a need to serve themselves. Having embraced God’s love at a far deeper level than any method of behavioral conformity will touch, they will guard that freedom even if it means others will misunderstand their pursuits. They reject the conventions of control not to please themselves, but Father Himself.” ~ Wayne Jacobsen
Grace and peace to you all!
Today’s guest post comes from Georgia in South of America and it was written by my friend Clint Byars of Forward Ministries. What Clint wrote about is something I have been realizing more and more. Thanks for this grounding reminder!
Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. Luke 9:1-2
Now John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.” Luk 9:49-50
If they’re not against me they’re for me… Really? That’s how Jesus answers the disciple whom “he loves.” This is John, the one cuddling with Jesus at the last supper. What an amazing attitude Jesus displays. John says, they haven’t followed you, they haven’t gone to our school, they don’t have our culture, I don’t think they’re qualified so I told them to stop. I didn’t think they should be walking in that kind of power so I forbid them. Hello? Have you ever been told by some Christian that you couldn’t do what Jesus said to do? Jesus says go for it!
Who is this guy? Just a few verses before he’s found doing the stuff is where Jesus gave the 12 power over demons and told them to go heal people. How in the world is this guy already doing things the disciples themselves struggled with. (remember when they came back and asked Jesus why they couldn’t cast our devils and he told them it’s because of their unbelief?) This guy, who is not even named, must have heard Jesus giving his disciples power and decided it was for him too. I want to meet that guy in eternity. Keep in mind, it’s not til the next chapter that Jesus sends out the 70. I want to be that nameless guy, out there doing the stuff, unknown by the formally called disciples, blowing things up for the Kingdom.
There’s another key point to this story. Obviously this man had not been included in Jesus’ inner circle, hearing the detailed explanations of the parables which Jesus gave to the 12. He most likely didn’t have his theology worked out, yet he took Jesus at his word and started operating in Kingdom authority. And Jesus’ attitude is to leave him alone. I find that amazing and incredibly encouraging.
You see, the disciple John made the distinction “he follows not with us.” This mindset is far too prevalent in the church today. We have the conservative crowd, the denominational crowd, the grace crowd, the grace crowd that thinks they’re more grace than the old grace crowd, the prophetic crowd, the anti-church crowd, the gung-ho church crowd… feel free to continue the list. The attitude we’re seeing is that because someone is preaching something different than us, they’re not following Jesus the way I do, therefore they must be wrong somehow. They very well may be, but it’s not your place to forbid a fellow brother who’s out there following Jesus the way they follow Jesus. The very attitude of Jesus himself is to let them do their thang (don’t worry, that’s not a type-o, I’m from Georgia). The Holy Spirit is much more capable than you to lead people into truth, I say we let him do his thang and get out of other people’s business.
It reminds me of the military industrial complex. You know, the corporations that profit from war. The military industrial complex likes war because it benefits them, they need an enemy because they get something out of it. Today we seem to have a MILITARY INDUSTRIAL CHURCH. A mindset that always needs an enemy to fight so our system is validated, making us feel special. When you’re known more for what you’re against than what you’re for, you may be MIC minded.
John was stripped of his elitist mindset through Jesus’ response. No doubt John believed he had something this man didn’t. He thought he was special somehow. He thought he was closer to Jesus than this man. Of course I don’t really know what John thought but it’s evident he believed it was ok for him to do what Jesus said and it wasn’t for this man.
Ask yourself these questions
- Am I always finding things wrong in what other people preach?
- Do I consider people who don’t follow Jesus the way I do dangerous?
- Do I think every Christian should focus on the same things about God that I do?
- Am I always arguing doctrine with fellow brothers and sisters?
- Am I always making snarky comments about people’s ideas about God?
- Am I always fighting the devil and looking for demons in other people’s lives? Oh wait, that’s another blog…
Please, leave people alone, let them follow the Holy Spirit for themselves. Better yet, give them a call or sit down for coffee, you may find you have more in common than you think. You have the same Father and that’s what counts.
Today’s guest post comes from my good friend Steve Hackman who also lives here in Honkers. He blogs over at www.stevehackman.net and his musings are well worth subscribing too!
Last night I had an interesting conversation with friends around my dining room table. In John 14:6 Jesus gives the familiar quote, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” I suggested that the verse had lost some of its original life giving intent and had, instead, been reduced to the final arbiter in apologetics; the last argument to be used when debating people of other faiths.
As the discussion progressed there was a consensus that began to develop that in the church today the “way” of Jesus had taken a back seat to the “truth” of Jesus. Christians, by and large, feel more compelled to be “defenders of the Truth” rather than “people of the way”. Which is ironic as the early church was referred to as The Way. (Makes me wonder if Christians today would prefer to be referred to as, The Truth)
The 21st century church is going through a massive identity crisis and the reason for it is we have put a desire to be “true” before imitating Jesus and following his ways. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in the John 14:6 verse Jesus mentions “Way” before “Truth”. Nothing will lead to dead, “works based” religion faster than pursuing God’s truth at the expense of His ways.
If we are not following in Jesus “way” our Jesus “truth” becomes distorted and subsequently we are no longer bringing forth Jesus “life”.
The Woman Caught in Adultery
The Pharisees were a perfect example what happens when people attempt to implement God’s “truth” without doing so through the lens of his “way”.
In John 8, a group of religious leaders bring a woman caught in adultery and interrupt Jesus right in the middle of his teaching. They wanted to test him by asking what his verdict about her would be and whether it would conflict with what the scriptures (Bible) said should be done.
The Bible was very clear; she should be killed. Her life should be ended and every person in that crowd would have been quite familiar with that judgment…including the woman on whom the judgment would ultimately fall.
That was “the truth”!
And why were the religious leaders testing Jesus on this? Well, Jesus had been developing a bit of a reputation. Word was getting around of his bringing too much love, mercy, and forgiveness to people…and not just to pious folk, but to sinners. (Nothing makes religious people angrier than too much love and mercy)
The “Way” of Jesus was cutting across what the Pharisees believe to be God’s “Truth”
(Jesus was getting to be known in the region as being one of those crazy “grace” preachers!)
So they round up a “sinner” who the Bible says should receive death and they say,
“In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
The Bible says this Jesus…what do you say? What does your “Way” say?
Jesus, after stooping down and writing some undefined words on the ground, counters with, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Dejected, one by one the group leaves until Jesus is left alone with the woman.
Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you, “Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
The religious “truth” said one thing… the Jesus “way” said another!
The religious “truth” said she should be killed, the Jesus “way” says she should be forgiven.
The religious “truth” treated her as a convict, the Jesus “way” treated her as a daughter.
Jesus refuses to condemn her, and as any loving father would do, encourages her to leave a life that is already bringing misery and death to her.
Jesus demonstrates to the religious leaders what real truth looks like.
And what is the result of the Jesus “truth” shaped by the Jesus “way”?
It’s Life! A living breathing woman who has been given a new lease on life after an encounter with the living God. She’s had her feet replanted on solid ground through “the way” of mercy and forgiveness.
The religious “truth” of the Pharisees would have just left a bloody, dead corpse!
In Christianity today we have left to many people battered, bruised, and bloody with stones of “religious truth”. It’s time to put away our stones and embrace “the Way” again!
Jesus does bring truth! He promises it! Follow in his footsteps and it will lead to life both for you and those you love.