Posts Tagged ‘emerging church’

faith2Here’s a good question. In the face of someone who knows does not know much about Christianity, how would you share the gospel of Jesus Christ?

My answer has been the same for some time. I simply tell my own story, my “testimony” as they say. Because I was just like the person to whom I am speaking, in one way or another, at one time or another. I did not come out of my childhood and into my teens as a saint. I was narcissistic and self-absorbed. The world revolved around me, so much so that I married at 18 and divorced five years later to pursue a career in the theater. My world, my dream, my everything. The story goes on, too long for a post/homework but needless to say, it’s interesting how God breaks through the fog, even we don’t recognize it as fog. I came to faith through the Word of God, through reading the Bible and asking a lot of questions. I tested for truth and certainty in my soul. I have followed the Christ ever since. I am alive today because of that surrender.

But, I did not have opportunity to tell my story this week.

Nor do I consider this a strategy or a plan or a way of delivering the message. Effectiveness for the listener is not based on my delivery.

The message of the Christ, promised to the Jews for centuries as the Messiah, is all about redemption, about relationship to God and how that relationship works. Back then, it was about substitution and blood sacrifice. In the time of Christ, it was also blood sacrifice, but once for all eternity, in a space that has no time.

The conversations in the Hillsong class have given me a desire to dig again into the Bible and to seek understanding of the patterns and context in a way that I never have before. I am grateful, however, that my first introduction to the things of God was from the Bible and as a result, I have read through it many times. I am familiar with the stories, the essence of Scripture, but not enough about the pieces that bring vibrancy and connections.

I am feeling solid in my faith which is really important in today’s political climate in which believers, wrapped in Christ, yet still at odds with one another and often in a very unloving and ugly way.

” . . . I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” II Tim 1:12b

In a way, it is a pattern in my own life that I cannot seem to shake, or perhaps I am not intended to do so. I am the daughter of immigrants and I did everything I could to “fit in” and be All-American. Yet I never really succeeded. I was never quite American enough, but on the flip side, never quite Latvian enough either. I wasn’t protecting and preserving my heritage enough. In college, I was in a sorority, accepted but only to a degree, I simply could not balance the game of wealth and privilege no matter how hard I tried. And in college, by marrying young, I ostracized myself from my single friends. Eventually, I ended up in New York for acting school, thinking I would finally really belong, but even there, one foot in and one foot out. When I had my conversion experience, I felt the divide even further. How could I be a believer and creative artist? Back then, there were no avenues for that.

The longer I was a Christian, the more I tried to walk and talk the way I thought I should, the well-spoken yet conservative believer who “loved the person but not the sin,” and who carried her faith as a badge on her sleeve. I was on the inside now, I thought. I knew all the phrases, I knew all the leaders, I knew all the praise songs, I even knew how to speak in tongues. I had arrived.

But that secure space began to crumble over the years. I grew tired of editing my words (for all along, I was) and not mentioning that I enjoyed reading books that others in that world found objectionable (even demonic) or listen to music that had a beat, or go to movies not on the accepted list.

Then I went into faith-based counseling and discovered the depth and power of forgiveness & breaking strongholds of all kinds. I found beauty in other church traditions. I experienced liturgy. I found I had been in a microcosm of Christianity and not the Church universal.

I began hearing other voices like Rob Bell, Phyllis Tickle, and Brian McLaren. I read about the Emergent Church, and Progressive Christianity and Post-Modernism. It was all so freeing and interesting and I reveled in the hashtag, #LoveWins.

But of course, I didn’t quite fit there, not 100%. Lo and behold, I was back in the middle. I loved and respected many of my more conservative Christian friends but I also loved my progressive ones. In any case, I was pulled slowly but surely out of the Christian Right.

I realize now that this series of classes is nudging me to fill in my theology. To not worry about fitting in or being in or anything like that.

I am an amalgam.

I am politically left leaning (especially now in this Donald Trump era); I am thoroughly grounded in my love of God and Christ and the atonement; I am surrendered to a sovereign God who can break through and “save” whomever and whenever God so pleases; I am learning to love and be content with my now, given by God to me (both the sorrow and the joy); and I am not going to assume that I know God’s intentions forĀ others who are “not like me.” I will lose validity with some people of faith and I will lose some validity with activists. But I will stand.


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Paul writes to the elders who “direct the affairs of the church” and I can’t help but wonder, what is this church? Many have written about the church over the centuries and it continues to morph. Today, some are big business while others gather in a private home. What is it for me? You?

I Timothy 5:17
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.

There is something about the corporateness of “church” that appeals to me. If I had the time, I’d look up the scripture references to gathering together, supporting one another, and building unity. But for now, I’ll just say, I know, in my heart, that “koinonia” is important.

There is a difference between Church (capital “C”), the greater Body of Christ throughout the world and the sub-unit of the Body, also called church (small “c”). In some cases, those sub-units have become silos and have built walls between their brands of corporate worship and the practices of other groups. They may even worship the same God but too many become suspicious if activities and terminology don’t resonate with their own.

Is church merely a place to worship together? Or is it just a corporate agreement that we share the same God? Is it a family? Or is it better than family? Is it accidental or intentional?

Some will glibly say the church is the people and not the building. And yet, they don’t know the person sitting next to them.

Mike and I are part of the launch of a new church in Havre de Grace called Restore Church. What will that look like? How will it be different, or will it? What does it mean to “do church?” Will we be able to know one another? Will we achieve true koinonia?

Will we get caught up in the government of church or the “affairs of the church” and lose the essence?

There is so much talk about church planting, but what are we planting? Are we putting down roots? Are we nurturing ourselves and others?

For the past twenty years, we have been at the same church, a wonderful mass of people, and yet we felt it was time to move on to experience something else. There was no anger, no complaints, not really, just a languishing feeling. My fear is that it simply comes with my age. Am I simply tired of church in its most traditional sense? What is it I want to experience now?

I have a lot of questions but few answers today. But I know this, it’s important to ask and to seek. It’s important for Spirit to lead.

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As usual, I have been putting the cart before the horse. I’ve been waiting for the “outpouring” to descend before stepping out. I’ve been hoping for an umbrella before it starts to rain. But that’s not how it works. Call comes to us with the tools or resources at hand. Nothing more, at first.

I Timothy 1:14
The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Many times, when I feel a kind of God-nudge, I start overworking the left side of my brain: I analyze the demands, inventory my current storehouse of resources, and assess my chances for success. I don’t want to fail; I want to know all of my options and I want to see if there is a back door. And to make matters worse, my old enemy likes to whisper test me with all kinds of questions like “are you sure it’s God speaking to you?”

Let’s say, I finally do step up and say, “yes” to the call. Intellectually, I get it: if God puts a call on my life to serve a people, then God will provide what I need to accomplish it. Even Paul, one of the strongest and undoubtedly, most stubborn Christ followers, acknowledged it was God who gave him the strength and faith he needed to persevere. (I don’t believe he could have predicted how difficult his journey for Christ was about to become.) Although Paul was well equipped with law, history, and heritage, his new life as an apostle for Christ needed many other gifts and outpourings, some miraculous and many seemingly insignificant.

  1. God gives gifts, blessings, and tools to accomplish His work but they may not be the same ones I think I should have. I may think I need lots of money to make something happen but God may decide to give bushels of corn instead. I may think I need a week to do the work at hand while God plans to bend time so that all is accomplished in a day. I may think I need a team of a hundred to complete the task but God may only provide twelve.
  2. God gives mercy to whom God wants to give mercy. By its nature, mercy comes into play when a person is undeserving of it. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be mercy. This is true for me as much as it is true for others.

When God extends mercy to me, or to anyone, there is a critical moment of decision. With the sin is covered, the mistake righted, or the obstacle removed, I am still at a crossroads. I can either move forward into a new direction that has been opened up or I can turn back. On the surface, it makes no sense to turn back once mercy has been poured out–unfortunately, that’s exactly what happens all the time. Before grace and mercy appeared, my situation was familiar, horrible even, but familiar. Like the Israelites who complained to Moses about their trials and hunger in the desert and despite the abundance of miracles (mercy and grace), they still wanted to go back to Egypt [Numbers 1:4-6]. Am I any different? Not so much.

Or, in the story of Jesus and the woman who was caught in adultery. Grace and mercy were extended to her in abundance, so much so that her captors fled. And yet, she was cautioned to sin no more, to follow the new and unfamiliar way. [John 8:10-11]

Yes, God will give an abundant outpouring of grace, faith, love, and mercy at unique junctures in our lives. Sometimes, it’s at a point outside of ourselves, a saving grace that gives us a second chance. This first type often manifests in that initial discovery process: there is a God and there is a Christ who died sacrificially for me.

But all the other outpourings come in response to my navigation skills on the path God has laid out for me. The outpourings don’t come before I encounter the challenges on the way. Outpourings don’t come early so I can freeze-dry them and then use them at will. Like the manna in the desert that was only good for a single day, God’s outpouring comes as needed.

I remember a Walk to Emmaus Retreat weekend I attended some years ago and the Spiritual Director for that weekend was leading the group in communion. Unlike most communions where one is handed a small round, white cardboard sliver or a miniature saltine cracker, she held up an entire loaf of freshly made bread. She said, “Christ gave up His body to torture and destruction for the sake of all humans. So, we are invited to take as much as is needed because from Christ, there will always be enough.” And from the cup, she said, “Drink deeply, for this well would never run dry.” The Body and the Blood, the first abundant offerings.

In our small community, there is a small group of people who are planting a new church called Restore Church that will launch September 11, 2011. My husband and I have been asked to become a part of this adventure. There will be many challenges and many needs and in my mind, it’s understood, anyone who enters into this ministry now is making a covenant for the long haul because every hand and heart will be needed. Each person must come as is, say “yes” to God’s call, and then step out in faith. The outpouring is available, just ahead: grace, faith, love, and mercy. In Christ, it will be enough.

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Back in the day, freedom in Christ for a gentile meant “no circumcision required.” That was huge. But what about today? Unlike the first century, most of us are gentile believers. Are we demanding that new believers conform to a standard of our own devising?

Galatians 2:4
This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.

Jesus had made it pretty plain during his three year ministry that his primary focus was the Jews. Those who followed him initially understood that the long-awaited Messiah was turning their laws, their norms, and their world upside down. He was transforming their structures.

But the gentiles who accepted Christ were different. They weren’t really transforming what they believed before, they were walking away from it. Following Christ was making something new.

I have a friend who has been a Christian all of her life. Every time the doors were open, she would say, her family would be at church. They were committed, active, and devoted to Jesus and the work of the church. Most, if not all, of her friends were in the church. She understood evangelism as primarily the work of bringing others to faith in Christ and therefore into the body life a church. They had committees, choirs, youth groups, singles groups, fellowship suppers, and holiday traditions. The church folks were loving and friendly. Come into our life, follow us as we follow Christ.

There is nothing particularly wrong with this picture until someone doesn’t quite fit into the mold. Or when someone asks, “is this all there is?”

Was Jesus different on the days he went to the Temple from the days he spent with prostitutes and tax collectors? Did he say, don’t forget to go to Temple on Saturday so you can start following all the laws and rules?

When Paul taught the Galatians, the Corinthians, and all the others throughout Asia, the message was simple: Christ crucified for the sake of all sin and resurrected in power of the Holy Spirit. We are all covered by his act of sacrifice if we accept the Truth of who He is. We are free to be new, to be in relationship with God, to follow a new way, to witness to others about the power of this transformation.

The key to growth as a Christian is fellowship. There’s no doubt about that. But, is the institutional church still that venue? Is passing the peace or saying hello to one another during the obligatory greeting time fellowship? It’s pretty easy to attend a mega-church and greet ten to twenty people, but really, unless I make a leap and start attending a smaller venue, I could be home watching a tele-preacher.

There is nothing more wonderful than to share in the worship and faith of God with people you know. Isn’t that why we have celebrations at home and invite our families and friends? It’s more fun, it’s more meaningful.

Am I getting off the subject of freedom in Christ? Not really. In Paul’s day, the freedom included the breaking of the long-held tradition of circumcision. Perhaps the new freedom in today’s world is to transform what it means to participate in the Body of Christ.

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Mark 13:34
It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

What is my assigned task? I have been a Christian for 30 years and yet, I’m still asking this question. That’s a bit absurd, I think. I know there are tasks that are assigned to all of us as believers: the great commission and all that. And apparently, I’m not alone in wondering about my particular task or Rick Warren wouldn’t have been able to build an empire on a similar question, “What on Earth am I here for?” and the Purpose-Driven Life.

But I want to play with the house and servant metaphor a little more. It’s important to remember that each servant cares for certain aspects of the house and yet, if properly trained, also pays attention to the “big picture” of the house as a whole. If a servant only tends to one small area and never lifts his/her head to look around, things could get off balance, areas of the house may go unattended for a long time. Who will notice?

And the one at the door? The one whose role it is to watch. What exactly is the watchman watching for? Certainly, the watchman is looking for signs of the returning Master. And the watchman is looking for signs that signal coming danger like the Robot in Lost in Space).

And yet, I am wondering if the watchman has even a greater role: not just to look out on the horizon but also to look inside. Sometimes the danger is within the house when the servants are falling behind in their tasks or become lazy or worse, they become unwilling to come out of the house.

If we never come out of the house, we may not realize that the house could use a refresh… new curtains, updated furniture, a paint job, or a more efficient way to use energy. Without coming outside, we may miss the other people who could help work inside the house, those who could do some renovating and expansions. But of course, that means change. And so often, if we’ve stayed inside the house too long, change is frightening. We get so comfortable inside our house and like it “just the way it is.”

Am I a watchman? Sometimes, I think I am. Or maybe, I’m just a regular little servant girl who has heard the watchman calling… “Come look! Change is coming to the House.”

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