We Don’t Need to Exaggerate the Goodness of God

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It seems like every where I go, people are distraught about God and how He’s perceived in the world. Christians–people who are supposed to declare the goodness of God–are spending an inordinate amount of time either apologizing for God being the way He is or trying to say He’s different than what the Bible says He is.  All of this is in some kind of misguided fear that God will look bad and unappealing to our unbelieving or once-but-not-now-believing friends.

This looks different depending on where you go and who you talk to, but the basic premise is this: The God the Bible describes is old-fashioned. He worked as God of the first century, was definitely better than those B.C. gods, but the times have changed. Penal sacrifice, lists of sins, submission to His lordship…all of these are things that were applicable then, but need to be updated. So they take the best parts of the God of the Bible, exclude the parts they don’t like, and present a sort of God 2.0. This God is not only like the God of the Bible, but He is so unbelievably good that He’s not awkward to bring up at parties.

For those of you who struggle with this, I have good news: We don’t need to exaggerate the goodness of God! We have a God who created everything out of nothing! Nothing! And then, after He created everything, He created mankind and set him over every amazing thing He made. When mankind had the audacity to spit in His face and turn our backs against Him, God started a rescue plan that culminated in being born into this Earth, living as an innocent man in a despicable world, and dying the death of a criminal, all so He could restore humanity to its rightful place of having a relationship with God!

This relationship could be restored as easily as repenting and believing that He did what He said.  There were no mountains to climb or any money to give. No secret wisdom for the wise that only a select few could have. As many as wanted to could come to God.  Also, if you’re sick, there’s healing! If you have demons bugging you, there’s freedom from that! He will restore everything that’s been lost in your life, you just need to ask.

This is why the Psalmist says:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.

Psalm 103:2-5

Now there are all sorts of accusations that can and will be leveled against God. But those are accusations against a God who is nice but never does anything. Beloved, we have a real God who pardons us for all the crap we have put Him and others through. We have a God who heals all of our diseases. We have a God who redeems our lives from destruction that we caused ourselves AND He sets His loyal love on us. We, who turned are backs on Him, became the objects of His affection.

Beloved, you might be able to make up a Genie who serves you, but that Genie isn’t real. Nor is he God. But God, friends, God will restore you and your life if you surrender it to Him. You can’t exaggerate this. It’s literally too good to be true. If anyone in real life ever treated you like this, your story would not be believed.

So the next time you are tempted to believe that God needs to be updated to fit the modern era and conform to modern sensibilities, remember how ridiculously good He is. Don’t try to exaggerate His goodness–you’ll end up in error–but declare in truth how good He really is.

You won’t regret it.

Don’t Start a House Church Out of Anger

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I’m always trying to get people to start house churches. It’s kind of a little crusade of mine. So people are always a little surprised when I caution some folks not to start a house church.

So while I have a huge list of reasons why people should start house churches, I have a small list of reasons they shouldn’t. One of the main reasons I caution people to not start a house church is because they are angry with another believer or group of believers.

It’s a common scenario: Something a pastor or leader or just someone else in your house church did makes you angry. Out of anger, the impulse to start a house church arises. Sometimes it’s out of a desire to prove the offending person wrong. Sometimes we just want to get away from the person in our current church. Sometimes its because we want a church of our own to lead. Regardless, the temptation is there–Starting a house church is easy, I’ll just do that.

Starting a house church is easy. That’s one reason we love them. But when we start house churches out of anger and division, we set ourselves up for disaster down the road. What many don’t realize when they start a house church is that often those who lay the vision for a house church sow the seeds of the future of that house church.  Those with prophetic gifting will often find themselves planting prophetic house churches.  House churches started by people with mercy gifts will often multiply disciples with mercy gifts. But those who start house churches out of anger will often end up with an angry house church.

This shouldn’t surprise us. James tells us:

This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;  for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

James 1:19-20

See the problem? Anger fills us with a kind of hubris that causes us to take matters in our own hands to show other people. We will prove ourselves. But this is so outside of how God births his Kingdom. Jesus invites us to serve others, to turn the other cheek when wronged, and to lay aside all forms of anger because it’s truly the seeds of murder in our heart (See Matthew 5:21-24). Anger with a brother actually represents a break in your relationship with God that needs to be dealt with immediately.

This is why I recommend, before someone with anger in their heart plants a house church, that they go and try to be reconciled with their brother or sister. Obviously this is not always possible. Not every conflict can be reconciled, but Paul tells us that as much as it is up to us to live at peace with others (Romans 12:18). That will mean forgiving the brother or sister we believe wronged us. It will mean trying to rebuild he relationship, to whatever degree possible.  Sometimes it may even mean bearing with others’ weaknesses, because not everyone will be perfect, or even our definition of perfect.

History is littered with angry people who started house churches only to be rejected by those who were part of this new house church. The rejection often comes from anger and bitterness, because the writer of Hebrews tells us that bitterness in one person will defile many.  So before you pull the trigger and plant that house church, please, for the sake of the Kingdom, reconcile yourself to whoever you might be running from.

“…the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”

Photo Credit: Angry Hulk by Clement127

Planting Kingdom Gardens

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“House churches should stop arguing with the institutional church and start planting Kingdom gardens.”

I wrote this over a week ago in my journal about ideas for this space. It’s been the running theme of everything I’ve been writing from “The God of the Mustard Seed” to “The End of the Argument” to “How to Share the Gospel Without Inviting Them to a Building.” The point is this: Instead of crusades against the past and other believers, let’s focus on Jesus and His Kingdom, making disciples and reproducing house churches.

How do we plant Kingdom gardens? We sow the Gospel message among our friends and neighbors, always combining Good News with good deeds. We invite those that respond (because there will be those who don’t) to become disciples of Jesus.  As these new believers respond to the invitation of discipleship we continue to encourage them to grow by the power of the Holy Spirit, love others the way that they have been loved, and share the Gospel with others they know who don’t know Christ.

There is so much here to talk about. Very little of the house church movement focuses on growing up in Christ and what that looks like, but most of the New Testament focuses on this reality.  That topic is too large for one post, but the effect of growing up in Christ and growing out through outreach and discipleship is a Kingdom garden. What started as tiny, laughable seeds has blossomed in the right soil and taken over some desolate patch of earth in order to beautify it.

These Kingdom gardens are the proof God is working in our midst. They speak more than our arguments. They speak more than our judgments on the rest of the church that doesn’t do things the way we do. The fruit and the beauty of what God is doing speaks for itself.

My prayer is that we, as house churches, can plant Kingdom gardens and leave the old arguments behind.

Inspiration Avenue

Welcome to a new feature here at the blog!

We live in a society that is over-taught and under-inspired. My hope is to help a bit with this by weekly looking for inspiration and sharing a few of those sources in a post with you. Let me know your thoughts.

Maybe this goes without saying, but I don’t expect you to agree with me about everything I post here. In fact, I expect some of the things I post will rattle your theological cages. My suggestion? Be inspired by people who aren’t perfect. Realize you won’t agree with everything I share here. Eat the chicken, spit out the bones.

So, without further ado, here are three sources of inspiration for the week:

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The Sent Life: This is a podcast I just discovered on Facebook yesterday. It’s by a brother named Jonathan Ammon. Jonathan is connected to the #NoPlaceLeft network and is passionate about reaching the unreached, making disciples, and building up the church. I’ve listened to a few of his podcasts so far and I’ve been really encouraged. The content is good, but more than anything, I hear in his voice a focus on “sentness” that I don’t hear other places. Jonathan is not a house church guy, necessarily, but for those of you who are, you will find much to be encouraged about. Also, for a church planter, he has a ton of perspective on healing and hearing the voice of the Lord that I don’t hear in most church planting circles.

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Shawn Bolz: The other day I had some time with one of my sons and we were talking about the place of the prophetic in the church. He was asking good questions and listening as we read through 1 Corinthians 12 through 14, but when we got to a certain point, I decided to bring up Shawn’s facebook page and watch him minister prophetically to people. After the first video it was obvious that my son was seeing the purpose of the prophetic and was more hungry to see it operate in his life. I was too.  Want to be encouraged that God knows you and loves you and wants to communicate that? Check out this video and this one.

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Just a Little Faith: Finally, this picture by Earl inspired me.  I know, I know, we all know that it only takes faith the size of a mustard seed to cause things to move in the Earth. But often we forget how small our faith needs to be if God is really in something. This was just an in-your-face reminder that something so small (like my faith) can really change things on the planet.

How to Share the Gospel without Inviting Them to a Building

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Recently I wrote about the need to stop fishing for new converts among people who are already followers of Jesus.  This is especially true among house churches who are often more at ease converting people from traditional churches than they are talking to the lost about Christ.  But not everyone is comfortable sharing their faith and very few people really know how to share their faith without inviting them to a building.

There are lots of reasons why sharing our faith is difficult. Fear, insecurity, lack of training, “not having lost friends,” and complacency are all culprits that keep us from sharing our faith.  But these can be overcome, if we are willing.  Many of these issues made it easy to invite people to a church building to hear a message preached from the front. At that point our job was done and it was the pastor’s job to take over.

The times have changed, though. Our society is less and less willing to darken the doors of an existing church building. As I shared yesterday, existing churches continue to compete for roughly 35% of the population while the remaining 65% goes unreached.  All of this means as believers, whether we’re part of house churches or not, will need to become missional in order to reach the lost.

We’ve talked about the definition of missional before.  Essentially it means that you leave your world (where many people know Christ) and enter into a world where few, if any, know Christ in order to declare who He is and what He’s done. This going to others with the gospel will be strategic in the days ahead simply because fewer and fewer are coming to us.  For those of us who were used to inviting others to hear and are newer to going to those who haven’t heard, I thought I would include a few things to consider:

  1. Don’t go alone. Jesus said not to, which is a great reason right off the bat. Part of this was for accountability. Going alone could put you in dangerous and morally compromising situations. Having someone with you helps.  But having someone who is part of the work also helps you overcome fear. It encourages you when your heart is weary with the work.
  2. Eat with people. Do it all the time. This is part of the reason Jesus was considered a glutton. He was constantly eating with sinners and those the world wouldn’t accept. There is nothing like food to break down barriers between people.  When Jesus sent out missionaries, He told them to “eat whatever is set before you,” (Luke 10:8). Who we eat with still says a lot about who we love, so take time to eat with people who the world thinks you shouldn’t be eating with. It will break down doors and start conversations.
  3. Tell stories. Jesus was always telling stories about what the Kingdom of Heaven was like. These stories often had twists, turning what everyone thought God or Heaven were like on their heads (See The Story of the Prodigal Son, The Good Samaritan, or The Pharisee and the Tax Collector). But they also pointed people to the goodness of God and the truth of following Him.  I always thought I had to come up with my own clever stories that would win peoples’ hearts. But here’s the good news: You can use the ones Jesus tells! They will win peoples’ hearts all on their own.
  4. Bring God into the process. One of the things I think we forget when we attempt to share the good news is that God is more concerned for the lost and broken than we are! He delights to draw people who don’t know Him to Himself. So we should invite Him into this process. Pray with the sick who you meet with faith that God will heal them. Ask God to give you words of knowledge that reveal God as real to your friends (1 Corinthians 14:24). God will demonstrate that He is real to those who don’t believe, yet.
  5. Share the Good News of the Kingdom. Talk often about the fact that the death of Jesus has opened the door of God’s Kingdom to people who could never deserve it.  I find that often we believe the Gospel has to be hidden until we really get into people’s hearts.  Not so! Tell people the Gospel early and often.  If you need help, check out this reproducible way of sharing the Gospel.  No one get saved if no one speaks the Gospel, so get good at telling the news. Telling it literally unleashes God’s power to save someone.

There’s always more that could be said about this topic, but this is a good start. If this is new to you, start by doing some of these things.  Bringing the Gospel to others can be slow and hard at first, but as you do it more, you will both see people respond and get better at following the Holy Spirit. Remember, He is the one who changes hearts, not you.

It’s through this process of partnering with the Holy Spirit to change hearts that lost people come to Christ. As lost people come to Christ and become disciples, churches are started. All of this is part of the mustard seed process that God is doing all over the earth.

Its Time to Stop Evangelizing Each Other

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one:

A Christian who is part of a house church starts a conversation with a believer who goes to a traditional/institutional/legacy church. Soon the conversation turns to what the Bible says about church. The house church believer begins to lead the conversation, hoping to sway the traditional church member to become part of a house church in some capacity.  The story ends a hundred different ways: sometimes the traditional church member is offended, sometimes they are convicted, sometimes nothing happens at all.

None of this is especially evil. Christians have had these types of conversations for hundreds of years: Catholic vs. Protestant, Charismatic vs. Cessationist, Evangelical vs. Mainline, etc.  My point is that sometimes, especially within the house church movement, we are way more evangelistic with people who claim Jesus but not our “way” than we are with people who don’t claim the name of Jesus at all .

But friends, there is a mission field, full of lost souls that have never seen Jesus lived out and proclaimed in front of their eyes. Some of them (even in America!) have never even heard the Gospel.  There are people in your neighborhood who will treat you the same way: Some will be offended, some will be convicted, and some will do nothing if you share Jesus with them. But they haven’t heard and you can share the Gospel with them one more time.

When we started out our first house church, we spent almost no time talking about what a house church was or inviting existing believers to our house church. We did what house churches do and we shared the gospel with people who didn’t believe. Did we acquire some Christians along the way? Yes. Did we inspire others Christians to start house churches? Yes. But we did this by almost completely trying to share the Gospel with other believers and ignoring the potential of growing by adding other Christians to our house church.

Alan Hirsch in his book The Forgotten Ways talks about how most churches in the United States are competing with each other for the 35% of the population that is attracted to a traditional, evangelical church. But there is a staggering 65% of the population in the United States that is not drawn to a traditional, evangelical church and is part of a multicultural, diverse people that are far from God. If America has 325,146,000 people,  we are leaving 211,344,900 people who are lost to try and attract 113,801,100 who are easier to talk to about Jesus but are already saved.

Very little of this reminds me of the shepherd who left 99 sheep to find the one that was lost (Luke 15:3-7).

Friends, my heart for those of us who claim to be a part of the house church movement is that we start house churches that touch those who are far from God. That there would be a movement of house churches planting house churches among the broken and those who formerly had no interest in God. Who better to reach those burnt out on bad religion and those who would never darken the door of a church than those who have forsaken both? If we love Jesus, we should speak about Him with those who don’t know Him, not just those who do.

We can be a missionary force, if we stop evangelizing each other and start sharing the Gospel.

The End of the Argument

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If you, like me have participated in house church discussions for any length of time, either online or in person, you’ve experienced it. One minute everyone is talking about Jesus and encouraging each other to follow Jesus and the next minute the conversation turns to the evils of the institutional church. Like an atheist bitter at a god he claims not to believe in, the house church folks begin to argue with people who aren’t even there.

There are a million topics that can turn the topic this direction:

Buildings

Programs

Tithing

Pastors

Discipleship

The Bible

Authority in the church

…the list goes on and on.  But for whatever reason, these are the most popular, uniting, fervent conversations within the movement. It’s almost as if the unifying element in these groups is not Jesus, but our opposition to some form of traditional Christianity.

Let that sink in for a moment.

This type of attitude can become a problem. Left unchecked, we become evangelists for organic/simple/house churches among traditional church members instead of fishers of men among those who have no hope in Jesus.

Now, I’m an advocate for house churches. I write articles frequently where I talk about the advantages of house churches and why they make sense in light of Scripture and history. Hopefully you’d identify me as a friend of the house church movement. But as a friend of the movement, let me say that we need to leave behind our arguments with the traditional church. We need to stop arguing with those who are no longer part of our lives and let Jesus cleanse us of the bitterness of the past.

Most importantly, we need to start having conversations that encourage and strengthen the type of church that Jesus is building. We need to start becoming evangelists for Christ who both saved us and led us into this organic way of living out Christianity. We can let new followers of Jesus and new, healthy churches be the evidence of what Jesus is doing in our midst instead of our arguments.

So can bury the arguments with the past and move forward building the church called us to? I think we’ll be better for it.