Monday, September 24, 2012

What's Really Yours?

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. “ – (John 1:1-3)

Sometimes I forget that God owns everything, and that means everything I experience was created by Him, and comes into my life after first passing through His hands.

Since Jesus made everything, everything belongs to Him. Saturn is his. China is his. Every swordfish on earth is his. Every square inch of moon dust belongs to him, and the moon itself. Every panda bear. Every star in the Universe. Every square inch of everything. It all belongs to God. Absolutely nothing that you and I can see or conceive of exists apart from Christ, and since He made it, it’s His alone.

“What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” – (1 Cor. 4:7)

When we forget that everything belongs to God, we can become selfish. We start to believe that the things that are in our care belong to us, as if we created them ourselves. We start to think that God only deserves 10 percent of our money, for example, when obviously He deserves all of it. We start to think that God deserves only one day each week for us to spend thinking about Him and talking to Him instead of realizing that every breath belongs to Him and that our entire lives depend upon Him.

“For in him (Jesus) all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” – (Colossians 1:16-17)

Without Jesus there would be no planet, no solar system, no atmosphere, no water, no food to eat, no oxygen, no photosynthesis.

Jesus is more than our Savior. He is more than our Lord. He is the creator of the Universe. He deserves all we can give Him, and even if we do give everything we have to Him, all we will have done is to give back to Him the very things He owns already.

Do you know the one thing that Jesus wants most of all? It’s you. Your heart. Your time. Your love, freely given to Him. He wants that one part of yourself that you’ve been holding back from Him. You know what it is. He wants that most of all because He loves you and He knows that once you let go of that He can put something into your heart that is more glorious and wonderful than you could ever imagine. Something that you can really call your own – Himself.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledgethat you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” – (Ephesians 3:16-19)

How could you not love a God who would rather die than live without you? Who has already emptied Himself of everything in order to give you all of Himself? This is a creator who loves us until it hurts. Until it kills Him.  

Thank you, Jesus, that we are rich in all the things that matter – and rich in many other ways that do not.

“All I see, all I’ve known, all I touch, all I own, first came through your hands like grains of golden sand."

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sacrificial Love: What's In It For Me?

Jesus commands us to “love one another” and even to “love your enemies”, but there are some who hear this and ask the question we’re all wondering, “What’s in it for me?”

Sure, we want to follow Jesus and to obey His teachings, but it would be great to know what we get out of it before we start with all that self-sacrificial love stuff.

I mean, everyone knows John 3:16, but most of us aren’t as familiar with 1 John 3:16:
“Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

So, we understand that part in John 3:16 about just believing and receiving. That’s all about what we get out of the relationship without too much emphasis on what we have to invest. But this whole thing about 1 John 3:16 is a bit much. I mean, sure, Jesus died for me, but now I’ve got to turn around and die for those chuckleheads at my church? Are you yanking my chain?

Hardly. Jesus himself explains it this way after washing the feet of his disciples during the Last Supper:

“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” – (John 13:12-15)

Unfortunately, Jesus seems to have left out the part about what you and I are going to get out of this. Certainly he had to realize that we’d want to know what the payoff might be. Right?

Well, Jesus does mention this one little part at the end that says:

“Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” – (John 13:17)

This is a bit of a paradigm shift for many of us in America. See, most of us have been lead to believe that knowing God’s Word is all it takes to be blessed. Isn’t this why televangelists urge us to tune in and to buy their tape series and to show up at conferences? Surely knowing more stuff is essential for being blessed? 

The more you know the more you grow…right? Maybe not.

Jesus seems pretty clear that we cannot stop at knowing the truth. We have to go one more step and actually put what we know into practice. That’s where the blessing comes in.

See, the blessings that Jesus refers to are not always immediate, and in fact there’s a very good chance that you might actually suffer for doing those things that Jesus commanded you to do.

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” – (1 Peter 2:21)

Yes, suffering is also part of the example that Jesus set for us, not just foot-washing. So, we need to expect to suffer as we follow His example. That means the blessing that Jesus promises us is more about the reward we will receive at the Judgment for our obedience to His command to love others, and to wash feet, and to suffer in the process.

We’re all called to follow Jesus. That calling carries with it a price. Jesus urged all of us to “count the cost” of discipleship before we set off on the path. Because the cost is steep (our entire life) and the way is difficult (carrying our cross daily), Jesus asks us to understand what is required. But the promise we have from our Lord and Savior is this – He will go with us, and there will be a reward waiting for us at the end.

Until then, when Jesus asks us to lay down our lives for others and to love sacrificially, we probably shouldn’t ask “What’s in it for me?” It sort of betrays our ignorance of this calling and puts the focus on ourselves rather than on those who we are called to love.

"Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them."


Wednesday, September 19, 2012


New Evidence: Early Christian Soldiers?

A few months ago, as I was heading into the second Pacifist Fight Club event which was called Round 2 – “The Means War”, I received an  email with links to an article which claimed that my position regarding the non-participation of the early Christian church in the military was inaccurate.
The main piece of evidence supplied to me at that time was the discovery of an historical (second century) document which detailed the actions of several Christians who were part of the army of  Marcus Aurelius. Second to that was a response by Tertullian (a second century church father) who claimed that the prayers of those Christian soldiers were instrumental in the victory of that army.

Since our event was only a few days away, I shared it with fellow presenter Thomas Crisp and we both did mention this evidence briefly during the discussion sessions following the presentations, but until now I've held off sharing a detailed resopnse.

About a month ago another brother in Christ (Herb Montgomery) contacted me because he had come across this same information and, like myself, was a bit crest-fallen to have discovered evidence that suggested the early Christian church actually did participate in military actions much earlier than we had come to believe.
I shared the research I had done up to that point with him and we corresponded a little back and forth. As a result of Herb’s continued research there is much to discuss regarding this apparent contradiction between Christian pacifists and those Christians who hold to redemptive justice.
Here’s a little more background information and a summary of what we found. (And by “we” I mostly mean Herb Montgomery).

 The Rain Soldiers

The event which informs this discussion occurred when Roman General Marcus Aurelius was preparing to go to battle with barbarian forces in what we now call Germany. His men were exhausted and suffering from heat exposure. The forces ahead of them were fresh and they were outnumbered. After praying to his own pagan gods (and finding no help), Marcus summons the Christians in his army and after they pray (“simultaneously”) water began to pour from the sky – refreshing them with cool water which they caught and drank from their shields – and pelting the barbarian horde with giant hailstones. As a result, the Romans won the battle.

When I first read of this account it stunned me. I immediately searched online for the source and found only one (a single book) and was immediately skeptical. Mostly because I’ve been reading about this topic and debating it with people for years and no one has ever (not once) brought up this as evidence that Christians were involved in military service before the time of Constantine.

Keep in mind, the Christian pacifist holds that the early Christian church was anti-war and anti-violence up until the corruption of the church by the Emperor Constantine in the mid 3rd century. How could it be that Christians were engaging in violence so much earlier than this? Well…hang on a minute and you’ll see the whole truth.

I continued to research and I did find an article on Wikipedia (a most reliable source of trust-worthy information, I know), which backed up the claims of the email and of the book that was quoted. Furthermore, there was a quote by Tertullian who not only referenced the “Rain Soldiers” event but also appeared nonplussed by the fact that Christians were serving in this army.

 The quote (taken out of its context, by the way), says:

“You will see this by examining the letters of Marcus Aurelius, that most serious of emperors. For, in his letters, he bears witness that the Germanic drought was removed by the rains obtained through the prayers of the Christians, who happened to be fighting under him.” - (Tertullian, Apology.)

In addition to this, we also have two other quotes by Tertullian referenced which also appear to contradict his many other non-violent, anti-military quotes, for example:

“Looking up to Him (God), we Christians with hands extended…constantly beseech Him on behalf of all Emperors. We ask for them long life, undisturbed power, security at home, brave armies, a faithful senate . . .” - (Tertullian, Apology)

We (Christians) are sailors along with yourselves; we serve in the army; we engage in farming and trading…” - (Tertullian, Apology)

Now, again, you have to remember that Tertullian is the same guy who famously said:
“When Christ disarmed Peter, He disarmed every soldier." – (Tertullian, Apology; Appendix to Part 9)

So, you can see this appears quite contradictory, especially when added to the many, many other anti-military quotes by Tertullian that many Christian Pacifists hold up as evidence that the early followers of Christ did not stand for violence or condone participation in the military. However, when you peel back the layers and actually read all of the quotes in their entirety what you learn is that, (yes Virginia), the Christian Pacifists were right all along.

For example, when you read Marcus Aurelius’ entire epistle regarding this instance what you see is that those Christians in his army were non-combatants. And he even goes further to explain that the reason why they were non-combatants is due to their faith in Christ. Here’s the full quote with emphasis on the sections left out by our pro-military friends.

The Epistle of Marcus Aurelius to the Roman Senate reads:

 “Having then examined my own position, and my host, with respect to the vast mass of barbarians and of the enemy, I quickly betook myself to prayer to the gods of my country. But being disregarded by them, I summoned those who among us go by the name of Christians. And having made inquiry, I discovered a great number and vast host of them, and raged against them, which was by no means becoming; for afterwards I learned their power. Wherefore they began the battle, not by preparing weapons, nor arms, nor bugles; for such preparation is hateful to them, on account of the God they bear about in their conscience. Therefore it is probable that those whom we suppose to be atheists, have God as their ruling power entrenched in their conscience. For having cast themselves on the ground, they prayed not only for me, but also for the whole army as it stood, that they might be delivered from the present thirst and famine. For during five days we had got no water, because there was none; for we were in the heart of Germany, and in the enemy’s territory. And simultaneously with their casting themselves on the ground, and praying to God (a God of whom I am ignorant), water poured from heaven, upon us most refreshingly cool, but upon the enemies of Rome a withering hail. And immediately we recognized the presence of God following on the prayer —a God unconquerable and indestructible.”

The quote continues by arguing for the end to Christian oppression and the punishment of those who persecute them.

If we examine the Tertullian quote in its entirety (without removing all the annoying pacifist bits) we find out that he (believe it or not) was consistently non-violent in his theology.

For context, Tertullian was writing to show the Emperor that Christians were no threat to the Roman government and that they actually prayed for their Emperor as Christ commanded all Christians to do:

"Thither we lift our eyes, with hands outstretched, because free from sin; with head uncovered, for we have nothing whereof to be ashamed; finally, without a monitor, because it is from the heart we supplicate. Without ceasing, for all our emperors we offer prayer. We pray for life prolonged; for security to the empire; for protection to the imperial house; for brave armies, a faithful senate, a virtuous people, the world at rest, whatever, as man or Cæsar, an emperor would wish. These things I cannot ask from any but the God from whom I know I shall obtain them, both because He alone bestows them and because I have claims upon Him for their gift, as being a servant of His, rendering homage to Him alone, persecuted for His doctrine, offering to Him, at His own requirement, that costly and noble sacrifice of prayer dispatched from the chaste body, an unstained soul, a sanctified spirit, not the few grains of incense a farthing buys — tears of an Arabian tree,— not a few drops of wine,— not the blood of some worthless ox to which death is a relief, and, in addition to other offensive things, a polluted conscience, so that one wonders, when your victims are examined by these vile priests, why the examination is not rather of the sacrificers than the sacrifices. With our hands thus stretched out and up to God, rend us with your iron claws, hang us up on crosses, wrap us in flames, take our heads from us with the sword, let loose the wild beasts on us, - the very attitude of a Christian praying is one of preparation for all punishment. Let this, good rulers be your work: wring from us the soul, beseeching God on the emperor's behalf." – (Tertullian, Apology, Chapter 30)

See that? Tertullian is saying that Christians are praying for God to bless their Emperor even while they are being tortured and killed for their faith. This sounds more like the Tertullian that Christian Pacifists know and love.

Many have tried to say that Tertullian and Origen were not against military involvement because of any non-violent Christian pacifism but mainly because of the participation in pagan rituals and swearing allegiance to the Roman Emperor as a Deity. However, the following quote from Tertullian demolishes that argument soundly:

I think we must first inquire whether warfare is proper at all for Christians. What sense is there in discussing the merely accidental, when that on which it rests is to be condemned? Do we believe it lawful for a human oath to be superadded to one divine, for a man to come under promise to another master after Christ, and to abjure father, mother, and all nearest kinsfolk, whom even the law has commanded us to honour and love next to God Himself, to whom the Gospel, too, holding them only of less account than Christ, has in like manner rendered honour? Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law? And shall he apply the chain, and the prison, and the torture, and the punishment, who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs?” …”Touching this primary aspect of the question, as to the unlawfulness even of a military life itself, I shall not add more, that the secondary question may be restored to its place. Indeed, if, putting my strength to the question, I banish from us the military life..." - (Tertullian, The Chaplet or De Corona; chapter 11)

So, it’s fairly clear that Tertullian did not want any follower of Christ to engage in military action or warfare and that his reasons were directly related to obedience towards Christ’s commands against using violence. In this same work, he also argues that:

 “Of course, if faith comes later, and finds any preoccupied with military service….when a man [already in the military] has become a believer, and faith has been sealed, there must be either an immediate abandonment of it (military service), which has been the course with many,  or all sorts of quibbling will have to be resorted to in order to avoid offending God, and that is not allowed even outside of military service;”

In this document, Tertullian urges those who are already serving in the military to cease involvement and, if necessary, suffer a martyrs death (as was often the case).

Finally, let’s end with a look at how Tertullian handles the common objection we often hear from pro-military Christians regarding the Old Testament use and acceptance of warfare as an argument for why Christians should be free to go to war today:

But now inquiry is made about this point, whether a believer may turn himself unto military service, and whether the military may be admitted unto the faith, even the rank and file, or each inferior grade, to whom there is no necessity for taking part in sacrifices or capital punishments [Note: he’s talking about an exception whereby a Christian in the military might not have to take the offensive oaths to Caesar as “Lord and Savior”, etc.]. There is no agreement between the divine and the human sacrament, the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil, the camp of light and the camp of darkness. One soul cannot be due to two masters—God and Cæsar. And yet Moses carried a rod, and Aaron wore a buckle, and John (Baptist) is girt with leather and Joshua the son of Nun leads a line of march; and the People warred: if it pleases you to sport with the subject. [Sound familiar?] But how will a Christian man war, nay, how will he serve even in peace, without a sword, which the Lord has taken away? For albeit soldiers had come unto John, and had received the formula of their rule; albeit, likewise, a centurion had believed; still the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier.” – (Tertullian, Apology, Chapter 19)

So, in spite of so-called “evidence” that appears to contradict the claim that the early Church was peaceful and non-violent, the truth is still evident: The followers of Jesus did not approve of warfare nor engage in violence until the time of Constantine in the mid third century.

For those of us who desire to follow Christ with all our hearts, we cannot appeal to the Old Testament to support a belief in redemptive violence. At the very heart of this issue is one single fact: Our Lord Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, and bless those who curse us. He disarmed Peter and he forbid His disciples to work violence against others. We cannot serve both God and Caesar. Our Lord Jesus has given us our marching orders. We cannot do less than obey His every word.


*SPECIAL THANKS to Herb Montgomery for his diligent research in this area. You can read his extensive treatment of this subject (with longer quotes and a discussion of Origen’s position) here>

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Want More Chaff?

According to the New Testament, most of what we spend our time doing in the church, and arguing about, won’t last. Whether we’re talking about spiritual gifts, or evangelism, or service to others, or even prophecy, the scriptures call these “chaff”, as opposed to the fruit produced which is peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, hope, and of course, the greatest one of all, love.

In 1 Corinthians when Paul takes an entire chapter to explain the genius of God’s design for His Body – where every single person functions as an active member according to his or her gifting in order to serve and edify everyone else – he ends by reminding us that none of that (as great as it may be) means anything without love.
Jesus paints a similar picture for us of how, in the end, the earth will be harvested and the Lord of the Harvest will select only the fruit – the grain – that he’s looking for. Once He has that, the rest (that’s the chaff) is thrown into the fire and burned up.

Right now we need the chaff because, like the stalk and the branch and the leaf of a plant, there can be no fruit without it. But once we have produced the desired fruit (love, joy, peace, patience, etc.), there is no longer any need for the chaff. This is why Paul says, “But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.” (1 Cor. 13:8) Even though he has just spent the previous chapter explaining how tongues, and knowledge and prophecy are essential to the life of the Body, he reminds us that the day will come when none of these will be necessary.

What’s sad to me is how we allow those things that are intended to produce good fruit in us (like love, and faith, and hope) to divide. We forget that: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:1-3)

We divide and argue over tongues and prophecy and teaching, but these are all chaff that will one day cease and be cast into the fire. What brings us unity is not the chaff, or agreement about the use of it. Our unity is found only in Christ.

One day all of those things we argue about will pass away and no one will care. We will be one Body because nothing will remain except us, and Christ and love. What I find amazing is that these are still what can unite us even today, if we will realize that the chaff doesn’t matter.

The chaff serves a purpose, but it is not the point. The point is to remain part of the Body and receive life from the Head. The point is to remain in the Vine and to bear fruit. The point is to love as Jesus loved us, and to forgive as we have been forgiven. To be like Him. To be transformed by His love. It is not to argue about the chaff that will one day be cast into the fire.
Maybe that's why we have so little love in our hearts today? Maybe that's why Christians aren't known for their incredible compassion and love for others? We're so focused on the chaff that we can never seem to actually produce the fruit we're intended to produce in the first place.

God, please help us to embrace one another and accept one another based on our common love for your Son. Please forgive us for basing our unity on things that will one day pass away, like tongues, or teaching, or prophecy. Please let us be One as you and your Son are One. Teach us to love one another unconditionally, and to love others the same way.


*Special thanks to my friend Brent Kollmansberger for sharing this insight about the chaff with our house church family last Sunday.

Thursday, September 06, 2012



In this, our final installment, we'll talk about a variety of things that leaders (or "elders") in the open meeting or new testament church should be prepared to do, as-needed.

Making Disciples
The purpose of the Church is to disciple others to follow Christ and to obey everything that He commands. Obedience to Christ, then, is critical to the life of the Body, and our gatherings together should be one of the primary places we learn how to follow Christ together on a daily basis.

Discipleship, I believe, is not always a leader/student arrangement where the mature Christian is teaching the baby Christian how to follow Christ. Not that it can’t be that way, of course, but I don’t believe it’s the only way we make disciples.

In our house church family I’ve found that a by-product of our fellowship together is a sort of constant discipleship where the Body works together to help everyone else follow Christ daily. It’s an ongoing reality where we are learning together how to follow Christ personally.

Dealing with Conflict
As an elder in the Body of Christ, one of our roles is to deal with conflict when it arises. It might be an argument between individuals in the group, or it might a divisive person who stirs things up, or it might be a disagreement over an issue of doctrine or a point of contention over a practice in the Body.

Our group has had a variety of these issues over the last six years. Sometimes the issues are trivial, and other times they are challenging. As always, spend time on your knees asking the Lord how to proceed. Remember, Jesus is the one who is building His church, not you or I. Always, continually, submit everything to Jesus and allow Him to move and to lead your church family through this process of healing and reconciliation.

Sometimes, a leader might have to confront a member who needs to be disciplined, and for that I recommend a group of elders within the Body who are motivated by love and full of wisdom and Godly insight. The goal is always reconciliation and restoration. Be as discreet and private as possible as long as the person is cooperative and repentant. Only take things to the entire church body as a very last resort, and then again, only with the desire to bring repentance, reconciliation and restoration.

Guarding your Family
Sometimes there are predators who come into your church family and you need to have discernment to recognize them and move quickly to remove them. This might involve meeeting with them in person to let them know why you're asking them to leave, or you might need to pull them aside and give them a warning if you think they just need a friendly reminder to change their behaviors.

The kinds of behaviors we need to be wary of are those who cause division or strife in the Body:

“I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.” (Romans 16:17)
Also look out for those who seek to have their way or to run the show. If this is something that you're not called to do, then it's certainly not something that anyone else has the right to do:
“I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.” (3 John 1:8-10)
Rather than allow one person to have their way and drive others out of the church, you should step in with other elders and ask this person to leave if they cannot fellowship without throwing their weight around.
You, of course, need to watch out for people who claim to be Christians but who are actually not following Jesus at all. As Paul explains:
“But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” (1 Cor. 5:11)
What Paul means, literally, is that we should not allow these people to gather with us when we eat and fellowship as a Church.
As always, the goal is reconciliation and restoration in the Body, not to damage people or to condemn people. So, if you're doing this right, no one else in the Body will ever know that you've met with anyone to discuss anything because you're honoring the people you love, not engaging in gossip or slander.
Again, this is not about control. We don't want our church fellowships to be about making people act like us or think like us. Please don't use this as a license to police the behaviors of your church family.
 Defend the Liberty of Everyone
This one, to me, is the most difficult but one of the most important things to remember in an open meeting. In our church family we like to say that "everyone is in process" and this means that we're all coming from different denominational backgrounds and we're all at different levels of maturity in various areas of our walk with Christ.
This means that we do not ever attempt to get everyone else in the Body to agree with us on every point of doctrine. Our group does not have any Statement of Faith for this very reason. Our only criteria for gathering together, and for accepting people into this Body is simply this: "Do you love Jesus? Are you actually seeking to follow Him in your daily life?" And if your answer is "Yes" then you are welcome to be a member of this Body.
All we ask is that you don't attempt to change us to believe what you believe and we promise not to try to change you to believe what we believe.
This simple attitude of liberty has allowed our group of former Baptists, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Methodists, Presbyterians, etc. to fellowship together for over six years without heated arguments over doctrine. We gather only to seek Jesus together and to help everyone else in the group to follow Him in their daily lives.
Unless you want to create a church that is full of people who act and think and believe just exactly the way you do (and to me that's a nightmare), I encourage you to learn how to disagree agreeably and to major on Christ when you come together, not on this or that little pet doctrine or theory.
You'll not only learn things from people who think different from you, you'll also fulfill Christ's desire that everyone in His Body be one, even as He and the Father are one. Our unity isn't based on agreement on doctrines, but on our sincere love for Christ alone.
Did I miss anything? If you've got any further questions about anything I've talked about in this series, please leave a comment below. I'm open!

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Anatomy of an Open Meeting: Creating Experts?


I've written about this before on my blog and shared my concerns about elevating leaders within the House Church/Organic Church movement to become our own versions of "Pastors" and "Bishops". If we do that we've now become as guilty as the rest of the traditional church we left behind in order to pursue Christ as our only Head.

This is a two way street, by the way. It can be the Leader who seeks the fame and the name, or it can be the people who seek after a guru who will tell them what to believe and how to behave. Or, it can be a little of both.

As someone whose personal sin is Pride, I have to admit that I'm very aware of this tendency in myself and I work very hard to sit in the background of our own church family and not take the Lord's place in the Body. I used to limit myself to only two "soap box moments" every meeting. Then my goal was to try not to share a comment on what every person shared during the meeting (which created a sort of conversational ping-pong where someone would share and then I would comment and then another person would share and then I would comment again, etc.). Now my goal is to keep silent unless the Lord really prompts me to share something. Otherwise, I sit quietly and I listen.

I know that sometimes people who read my blog or my books will visit our house church and they'll expect that I'll have some cool teaching to share every time. But that's not what happens. If anything, I'll rarely talk at all unless the Lord has given me something to teach or to share.

I'll never forget when one brother visited our group for the first time after reading my blog. He came on a Thursday evening and after I played the guitar during the shared worship time, I got up and left the room. He told me later that he thought it was very weird that I would do that, but the group didn't miss a beat and people were sharing and teaching and praying for one another spontaneously without me in the room. Eventually he did notice that I had returned to the room when I spoke up and shared something, but until that moment he was oblivious to my presence, which is sort of the point, really.

My goal is really to encourage everyone else to share. I really want to hear what my two teenage boys have to say. I want to hear from those quiet wives who never speak out. I want hear what that five year old boy has to say about Jesus. Those are always the most profound things, really. I've learned so much from the most unlikely sources. It's amazing, really.

This kind of thing is a movement of God. No man can take credit for this. When I hear from people all over the nation, and even the world, that God is leading them in this same New Testament model of "being Church" it excites me. Because we're not moving in this direction because we read a blog or a book or attended a conference. Every one I've spoken to shares their story about how God did this to them. God called them to step outside the traditional model of Church and they obeyed Him and followed His leading, even at a great cost - usually friendships, or salaries, or the respect of others, etc. But when I hear those testimonies I rejoice because I know that God is purifying His Bride and He's doing something marvelous that no man can dare take credit for.

In our final installment we'll look at a few other things a leader in an open meeting might be called upon to do.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Anatomy of an Open Meeting: How Do I Lead One?


This is probably the hardest thing to write about. As someone who grew up in the traditional church, was trained to be a leader in the church and has never even attended an open meeting before transitioning to an open house church model, leading others in this kind of meeting is very difficult to do.

For the first several years of our house church gatherings, I tried to encourage this sort of open meeting. Sometimes we would manage to come close, but it was years really before we started to actually have the sort of open meetings we long for.

If anything, the leader in an open meeting should begin by exercising great self-control and restraint. Honestly, a successful open meeting is more about what I don’t do than anything I do to make it successful. For example, I don’t prepare a teaching every time we gather. I don’t answer every question about the Bible that comes up. (As Neil Cole suggest, “Be the Bible Question Man, not the Bible Answer Man”). I don’t decide in advance what we’ll talk about or what we’ll study. I don’t choose the worship songs ahead of time. I don’t orchestrate the meeting. I don’t fill the awkward silences with noise. I don’t create a dependency on myself. I don’t lead the communion time. I don’t have a follow-up or illustration to wrap up everyone else’s testimony or scripture verse.

So, once we know what we don’t want to do, what is it that we should be doing? For starters, we should spend time in prayer before the meeting to ask the Lord Jesus to reveal Himself and have His way in the gathering. We should allow everyone a chance to speak. We should make sure the quietest person in the room is invited to share something, if they would like to. We should respect the opinions of others, even if they are not our own. We should learn how to disagree agreeably, which is all about your focus. If your focus is on Jesus then you won't get distracted so easily by disagreements on doctrine.
We should try to keep the group focused on Jesus if things begin to stray off the mark. We should learn to ask intelligent and insightful questions more than we bring clever answers to show our intelligence. We should find ways to bless everyone else in the group. We should pray during the meeting for the Lord to speak, and to move, and to have His way, and to reveal His heart to everyone. We should listen to the Holy Spirit if He prompts us to stop and pray for someone in need, or to sit quietly and listen for His voice, or to sing another song to respond to something inspiring we’ve just heard someone share with us. We should allow others to lead the group as they hear from the Lord. We should not see ourselves as leaders filling a position of authority but as servants fulfilling Christ’s command to serve others in love.

Overall, the leaders of an open meeting should be seen and almost never heard unless it’s necessary.

Granted, there are times when a visitor, or even a regular member, might become hostile, or attempt to take over the group or monopolize the share time. That’s when the leaders in the Body need to defend everyone else in the group and lovingly suggest that there might be someone else who would like to share something. If that doesn’t work, you might need to pull this person aside after the meeting and explain to them how an open meeting is designed to work and why it’s better if they take time to listen more than they share so that others can participate and everyone can grow together.

In our next installment of this series we'll discuss the danger of creating heroes and experts within the Body of Christ.



Monday, September 03, 2012

Anatomy of an Open Meeting: What does it look like?


Essentially, what we try to do is to come together and "take hold of Christ" as a Body. In other words, try to imagine that your church was sitting together in someone's living room and suddenly Jesus walks in the door and stands in the center of the room.

Would you guys keep talking to one another about the weather, or sports, or even Bible verses? Hopefully you'd all sit quietly and lean forward to hear what Jesus wanted to say to you. You'd talk to Him, not to each other. You'd meet with Him, not have a meeting about Him while He watched. That's basically what we're trying to do every time we meet.

Now, it might look different each time. And sometimes, honestly, we're better at it than at other times. But, usually our times together go something like this:

Some of us meet about thirty minutes early for prayer before the meeting starts. A brother once noted that an open meeting requires more prayer together, not less. This is because an open meeting is led by the Spirit, not by any one person or persons.  Everyone is invited to this prayer time, but no one has to come if they don't want to.

After prayer everyone else shows up for a shared, potluck breakfast together. Eating is an essential ingredient, I believe. It helps us to get to know one another and to be together without being pretentious. It's also how we build community and find out what people are like, what they're going through, etc. Real ministry can take place during the meal times, or we can just laugh together and eat some great food. Either way it's worth the investment of time. Plus, it’s based on the practice of the earliest Christians:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)
“They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts…” (Acts 2:46)

Eventually we'll finish eating and gather around the sofas and set out the communion elements and wait quietly for a while to pray together before we start singing songs. The singing is always suggested by the members of the Body, or anyone in the room. We have a set of worship songs put together in a songbook format, and we also have a set of old Baptist Hymnals. Or someone can bring a CD with a song to share, or they can just start singing a song that they love accappella and either teach it to all of us, or let those who know it join in.

There's lots of flexibility, as you'll notice. We're very conscious of the fact that we're not putting on a show. We're not trying to shush the children or keep to a program. We just try to allow the Holy Spirit to move however He likes and get out of His way.

During the singing time someone might feel led to read a scripture out loud, or to pray for someone else in the group, or to call out to God in thanksgiving and praise. We never know how that might work, but we're open to whatever happens.

I think this can only work if you're with a group of people, a family of believers, that you can trust. You have to know that everyone in that meeting cares for you and loves you. They're not trying to control you or to manipulate you. Over the last six years we've been developing that level of trust together and it's great, really.

Eventually we'll move from the singing and prayer time to "open share time" where everyone (young, old, male, female, visitor, regular, etc.) is free to share with everyone else what God has been teaching them during the week, or to share something that the Lord spoke to them during worship, etc. But not everyone has to share. It's ok to be quiet and listen, too.

Transition from the singing to the open share time is very fluid and sometimes we'll drift back into singing songs again, or spend the whole time praying for one another, or maybe share with one another over a single passage of scripture, or a variety of scriptures if there are a lot of people who have something to share. It varies week to week.

What I really love is when the seemingly random verses and testimonies that each person brings suddenly begin to emerge as a complete teaching on a single topic. Sometimes someone will say, "What is Jesus trying to teach us this morning?" and we'll realize "Oh, it's about letting go and trusting Him" or "It's about forgiveness", and then we'll try to respond to Him and thank Him for teaching us this lesson as a Body.

Our meetings usually run from about 9am for morning prayer to around 1pm or so. Sometimes it goes to 2pm but usually 12:30pm to 1pm. We usually end with Communion together and sing a song before we depart.

Now, even though this is our usual meeting format, what I love about an organic church is that we always have freedom to change things around whenever the Lord directs us to.

In the past, we've had gatherings where everyone creates artwork together, or perhaps we hear a testimony from someone, or sometimes we'll hear a teaching by someone who brings a study on a particular topic or book of the Bible. Sometimes we'll meet in a park together, or spend all of our time in worship and prayer.

Breaking our liturgy and embracing our freedom in Christ to do something different is important to the life of the Body.

One of my favorite times was when we asked the children to lead our meeting. They all sat together and we waited to see what they would do. Then one of them said, "Ok, does anyone have something to share with the group today?"

It was so wonderful because they had learned from us that to lead a meeting is to ask questions and invite others to share. How cool is that?

Next installment, we'll discuss how to lead or facilitate an open meeting.