Categories
church journey

beyond the traditional

It’s always interesting answering questions about my participation in what most people consider the traditional model of church life. I was recently having to fill out a form about this (with very small spaces for answers!), and thought I would post how I answered the requests:

Request: Please provide a few statements regarding your profession of faith, and how you came to faith:

My Answer: I first acknowledged a real relationship with God at the age of 15 through the ministry of Young Life. Since then I have continued on the journey of more fully understanding his love in sending Jesus to earth to die on the cross for our sins, get up from being dead, and ascend into heaven so that his Holy Spirit would come and empower us to follow him.

Request: Please tell us how you are participating in a church and using your gifts:

My Answer: My church journey has taken me through high school and college ministries, evangelism outreach, starting home fellowship networks and worship teams, teaching classes on the gifts, starting traditional churches, and starting home churches. My family and I are active in long-term “churches of 2 or 3” (Matt 18) where support and accountability are best, spontaneous gatherings and hospitality in our home, and occasional meetings and conferences of the traditional church model as the Lord leads.

Request: Please tell us what church you are attending, address, phone, and who your Pastor is:

My Answer: Our church life extends beyond the traditional model or a single location. Pastoral and other gifts occur regularly among us in the interactions with other believers. References are available if desired.

Categories
just thoughts

what happens after death – the quest for assurance

Something I’ve been discussing with friends is the quest for assurances about what happens to us after death.  I often think that it’s a little too easy to say, “oh I’m not afraid of death!” It has to be normal to wonder about what happens to us after death, and to work hard at avoiding it! No doubt it’s part of what keeps us alive. At this point in my life, I must say that I can’t think about death without thinking “what does God say about it?” We have the word of others who were close to God and faced death much closer than I – like Paul, who nearly died several times from acts of violence, starvation, and shipwrecks. And there’s Jesus himself, who died a violent death, but then got up from being dead to give us the very assurances we all need. How cool is that. Can there be any greater authority on death and life than he?

So what do we do with this need for assurances about life after death? The best I know how, I go to God, the ultimate truth on the matter. In my few years I feel so fortunate to know at least some of his love for me, to have seen his mercy/kindness in times of great need, and his power over my life’s circumstances when the waves of fear are too much for me. I don’t have any other place to go with my fear, but to him. And he’s never not been there in every single situation – my journey with him started when I was 15 (58 now). I’ve seen too much, I know too much not to believe him. It would be like telling Christopher Columbus that the earth was flat and if he sails too far he’ll fall off the edge. He’d sailed the globe, he knew too much, and those words would fall flat, but not Christopher. And I’m convinced the assurance I have inside me is not something I’ve mustered up, but it’s something God’s holy spirit gave me, and which he gives to anyone who asks him for it.

So what would I say to anyone seeking additional assurance? I say draw close to him with all your heart, and he will come to you, and give you that assurance, like he’s done for me. And not just assurance about life after this earth, but true life with him right here on earth. I’m no more special than any of his created ones, and his offer extends to all. I find I’m most open to receiving from him when I’ve come to the end of my rope; my own means. Some people’s ropes are longer than other’s, and it’s the fortunate ones that get to the end of it, so that God is all we want above all else. What else can I say? Sure, we can look to words of truth in the scriptures that speak of this assurance (a few below). But just seeing the words on a page has never been enough for me either, unless I have something “quickening” in me that injects faith in God in what I’m reading. It’s what Jesus was talking about in John’s gospel, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” It seems to me that only by having our own relationship with God can we have such confidence. And surely God knows this. Jesus had such compassion and desire for people to know him, saying things like, “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. (Matthew 7:8), and, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) I take comfort in these words. He knows what we need even before we ask. I believe we move forward in our quest by simply coming to him, finding honest words, and listening with our hearts to his response.

If interested, here’s a few scripture verses regarding assurance of life after death with God:

* Psalm 23:4 – David comforted by God even in the face of death

* Romans 8:38-39 – Paul comforting the Christians in Rome that neither death nor any earthly or other power can separate us from God’s love that comes through Jesus

* 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 – Paul comforting the Christians in Corinth that death has no “sting” when they are safe in Jesus

Categories
church journey

pressing on

Well, okay then! It’s been a six-year hiatus since my last post, and on the eve of 2019, I’m drawn to articulate thoughts again. I have several threads in my head, not sure where this goes yet, but not wanting that to hinder the restarting.

I’ll pick it up from the dangling thread I left in “fresh starting…” on 2 Dec 2012. Indeed, the last 6 years have been formative. I notice these words in my last post, “…stepping out of the regular gathering that we were part of…” and “There are many types of gatherings in the Puget Sound area, and I’m in touch with several of them.” I would say that one of the biggest adjustments in my thinking about church life is coming to see that the Lord has a lesser focus on group “gatherings” than I previously thought (“thought” because I didn’t know anything different, it’s what we did…) and more on individual relationships themselves. In Matthew 18 we read the familiar words of Jesus, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Without planning it, that’s been the primary church-life focus of these years – regular encounters with one or two others to touch the Lord together. Over a burger, at our house for dinner, dropping by for a quick visit on the way somewhere, a hallway conversation, a phone call, etc. These are precious and life-giving moments for me. Some have been ongoing for almost 20 years, some got started within the last 5 years. And there’s a rekindling of sorts, where we’re finding each other again. Thinking that group meetings are “required” for church life to happen is another reminder that the detox from the traditional model is deeper than I know. I suspect that the group meeting orientation of church life is rooted in the business model – it’s where sermons happen, buildings & equipment get used, the various church-business roles manifest, all of which is important validation for the giving of funds to the enterprise. I guess the unraveling of the church business model in me is still happening, now 22 years since I left it! I have another suspicion – it won’t be so for those who didn’t spend so much time in it. Thank you Lord!

All that aside, I’m encouraged to press on. I find myself so grateful for all that God has been doing in my family, friends, and I. Here’s believing 2019 will be better than expected, in the things that matter most. So, let’s know him. Let’s press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn (can’t stop that!). And he will come to us like the refreshing rain, like the Spring rain, watering the earth. (Hosea 6:3)

Categories
church journey

fresh starting…

I’m at a “fresh start” kind of place in my thinking about church life these days. We’ve made some adjustments some months ago in our regular routine, as far as stepping out of the regular gathering that we were part of for about 12 years. We have some regular patterns of fellow believers that we regularly meet up with, there’s always new connections being formed, and we sense God with us in this journey.

As I think and pray over these things, and discuss it with my wife, I believe that I need to make an effort to articulate where my thoughts have come to as far as what church life is all about. There are many types of gatherings in the Puget Sound area, and I’m in touch with several of them. One of the things that God impressed upon me in the last “chapter” of church life with the “12-year” gathering is how valuable it is to work things out in the context of community. So I welcome the response of others on these matters.

Categories
just thoughts

letting God be huge, wise, and in control

I had a friend recently write me about some really honest questions he was wrestling with – such as, “In my heart things are stirring…but is it me or is it God… wondering sometimes if I have missed it completely…makes me wonder what my life is about right now, and if the hunger I feel is true or what…”
I was encouraged by the raw honesty of this.  I too have had been doing some soul searching over the last 18 months.  It’s being a time of re-evaluating:  what I believe God is speaking to me about the direction and investment of my time, energy and resources.  Re-evaluating my skills (and lack thereof) in the work place – albeit, this came in the midst of probably the most challenging season of my adult working years in terms of the requirements placed on my time and the need to “step into bigger shoes.”  I’ve been confronted with a more honest assessment of the limits of my love for others vs. myself.  And during this same time period I’ve been very quiet on this blog.  There’s been less time for it, and I got out of a writing pattern.  But it’s more than that.  I think I’m slowly getting a new grip on what my life is really about, like my friend wrote.   I wrote back to him:
Dear Friend,
I commend you for the courage to ask the hard questions, and to look at things squarely.
The Lord once gave me a thought about this, when living in southern cal, and thinking about how we naturally bop around in the surf on the beach to avoid the impact of waves so they wouldn’t knock you down.  We jump up, dive, turning our bodies to the side and lean into the waves – of course!  We want to stay upright, on our feet.  He was showing me how I was approaching life, and he wanted to show me a different way.  He wanted me to turn over the full responsibility for whether the waves of life knocked me down or not, and not use any of my own cleverness to avoid things that are important, or my own strength to sustain them.  So the image he gave me, and he takes me back to it periodically over the years, was to simply stand there in the surf of life, facing forward and not sideways, letting come what may come, being willing to get knocked down by the waves, leaving all that in my loving Shepherd’s tender care.  Oh, that I would stay there.
Ps. 51:6 – and I like NASB here – “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.”

I believe that ruthless honesty you speak to is so important, so that what remains is only what comes from him, and is sustained only by him.

I too find myself wondering what my life is about these days.  I sense I’m in some kind of in-between place.  I guess I used to have answers but don’t anymore, but either way, I wasn’t even asking the questions I now have.  And the questions I have now are more simple and fundamental.  Like, “okay, what now?”  And somehow, this seems good and right – thank you, Lord.  I take comfort in feeling small in this season, letting him be huge, wise, and in control.
Your friend,
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