It’s a common problem.
Someone is reading the Bible or talking about God with another believer and they stumble across a truth about God that they don’t like or agree with. The person could be offended by God’s character or His standard or simply the fact that He is a He. They could be offended by how He acts in Scripture or something they perceive He has done in their lives.
The problem is we as humans begin to build idols around these offenses. These aren’t idols of wood and stone like the pagans used to worship. Instead, these idols are thoughts and opinions about God that fly in the face of what the Scripture teaches. When we encounter a facet of God that we don’t like, our natural, human response is to recreate God into someone who is more like us. And this–this God who is like us instead of who He really is–is a problem.
Let me give you one example: Romans 11:22 says this, “Behold then the kindness and severity of God…” For one person, the idea of a kind God is difficult. They see God as a hard man, punishing sin and don’t understand His kindness. Their temptation is speak of God as only just and never merciful. Another person loves God’s kindness and how He is better than we can ever imagine, yet they struggle with God’s severity. How could God be kind and severe, they wonder? So they only teach on God’s kindness, leaving out any mention of His righteous judgment against what is wrong. The problem is both of these very different people begin to build God into their own image instead of letting Scripture shape their understanding of who God is.
‘There’s lots to be said about how to truly understand God as He really is. But we can start here: God is different than us and we must get comfortable with that. He has a different nature than us. He sees things differently than we do. We are not His equal to judge Him. Nor is He a mix tape where we can pick the parts we like best and place them next to each other and chose that as our God. We take God as He is, not as we want Him to be.
Once we settle the argument in our hearts that God is different than we’d like Him to be, we can begin to see who He really is. There will still be tremendous questions that remain to be answered, some of which will never be fully understood because He’s God. This is what we signed up for–to draw close to God.
We just have to get comfortable with a God who is not like us.
[Editor’s Note: If the thought of understanding the nature of God is interesting to you, I wrote a 22 Day series based on A.W. Tozer’s book “The Knowledge of the Holy.” You can read the and follow along in the book series here.]
Society tells us that “regular church attendance” is every other week.
We say that being part of a church means meeting daily from house to house.
Society tells us worship is the 30 to 60 minutes we step inside a building every week.
We say worship is a life of presenting our bodies 24/7 to God as a living sacrifice.
Society tells us children are a distraction and shouldn’t be a part of the main event.
We say the children should get a chance to participate in the Kingdom just like adults.
Society tells us that the bigger the church, the better the experience.
We say Jesus shows up regardless of how many others do, even for two or three.
Society tells us that we need to become more inclusive and relax our standards so more people will come.
We say the way is narrow and few find it.
Society tells us going to church makes us a better person.
We say following Jesus will cost us our lives.
What would cause us to live like this? To give our lives to meeting with other believers, living as a permanent sacrifice every day, all day? What would cause us to have meetings interrupted by children and sometimes barely having anyone around? What would cause us to choose an old path that few seem to like? What would cause us give up our lives instead of improve them?
The answers may differ for others, but for us, the answer is we’ve met Jesus. That encounter with Him has been so profound that we trust Him as our leader, not just someday, but now. So we trust what He says, even about the ways we should gather and live our lives.
He is worth it.
A couple of days ago I wrote about serving people in a way that makes it obvious that God is real and active, not just serving people in a way that an atheist or agnostic can serve them. Some of the examples I gave are praying for the sick to be healed and hearing things that only God can speak to people and sharing them. You’d be forgiven if you thought I was making an argument for the supernatural. I was.
But there is another “tool” we have that the Buddhists, Atheists, or other “ists” don’t have: The Gospel. This retelling of the life of Jesus as the doorway for God drawing near to mankind isn’t just a story we tell people to convince them God is real. It *is* the power of God. Literally telling people the story of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, and soon return unleashes the power of God in the lives of those you tell it to.
When we do share the Gospel with people, we unleash Christ’s power to transform a person. This story of God offering His leadership in spite of our sin because of the sacrifice of Jesus is the story that will fix every human issue. It will fix poverty, because it fixes the brokenness of the human heart hat causes people to be unproductive, greedy, and wasteful. The Gospel heals the sexual perversion that is killing us because it tells us about a God who loves us despite what we’ve done or what’s been done to us. Literally, the Gospel is a seed of life that transforms a person from the inside out.
Now, people share the Gospel all the time and nothing happens. Sometimes, it’s because the Gospel isn’t shared from a heart of faith and encounter. No one will believe you’re message of transformation if you haven’t tasted the transformation in your own life. But other times, people remain under the power of the evil one after hearing the message. Jesus told us this would happen (Mark 4). But if we share the Gospel from a heart that has been changed by its message, we will inevitably see it give birth to new disciples.
So you may not be good at praying for the sick. You may not think you hear God well enough to tell people what He’s saying. Both of these things are things you can (and should try to) get better at. But everyone can share the Gospel. Everyone can share what Christ has done in their lives and connect it to what Christ has done for humanity. Every time we do this, it’s an open door to access the power of God to see a broken human life transformed.
Do you want the power of God? Don’t be ashamed of the Gospel. Share it.
Often in pursuit of a more missional, incarnational lifestyle we spend a lot of time serving people. We feed the poor, help where help is needed, and act as family for people who are not yet part of God’s family. Our hope is that in doing these things, people see the love of Jesus, hear the Gospel, and turn to Christ. This is good and part of God’s plan to draw people to Himself.
Let’s not forget, though, that Buddhists and atheists feed the poor, help where help is needed, and even act as family to those who aren’t part of God’s family. While these are all things God’s word instructs us to do, they are also things humans can do.
Without stopping doing these things, we should also begin to seek to do the things only God can do. We can listen to the Holy Spirit while we are serving people and see what He is saying. Then say it. One word from the Holy Spirit will unlock someone’s heart. If we’re serving someone and find out they are hurting or sick, we should pray for them, right then and there. God can and does heal and healing is a sign that the Kingdom of God has drawn close to people who are far away from God.
So don’t stop being servants or feeding the poor, but in all your doing, make room for God to do the things only God can do. Let’s introduce people to a God who can do more than just what nice humans can do. Let’s show them Christ who can do what only God can do.
Ten years ago, my family and I, along with several other families, launched out in an adventure to start a house church. Ten years later, we have four house churches spread across our city and I write quite a bit about the phenomenon, actively encouraging other Christians to start house churches. You’d be forgiven if you called me an advocate.
In all of my talking about house churches, there is usually this unspoken elephant in the room when I reference the traditional, legacy church. When I use those phrases, I’m referencing everything from your traditional Lutheran church that meets in a cathedral to your rock out charismatic church that meets in a warehouse and everything in-between. How do I feel about those churches? What kind of relationship can someone who believes the things that I do have with people “haven’t left the building?”
I think it’s important to start here: The universal Church is made up of people who have repented of their sins and decided to follow Christ. Church is the name of a person, not a building or a meeting. Church is the name Jesus gives to His bride. And because of this, wherever believing people gather, the church is there in some form.
This is important, because we tend to forget that what makes us church isn’t our doctrine or how meet or our practices. What makes us church is the fact that we have a relationship with Christ. This Jesus-centered approach will keep us from all sorts of pride and hypocrisy.
Because I believe that Jesus inside of people is what makes us church, I actually have relationships with believers that meet as traditional churches. I pray with them. I stand with them in times of trouble. I counsel them. I challenge my pastor friends not to let their ministry be about a paycheck or a building. They challenge me to be a better father, employee, and spokesman for the Gospel. There is a healthy give-and-take without me having to compromise who I am and this healthy give-and-take is shaping all of us into something better. We all tell the story of a God who loved us enough to become human and take nails for our sins and sometimes we tell it together.
I can do all of this without compromising who I am and what the Lord has shown me through this journey into organic church. Frankly, the more I believe in radically pursuing Jesus as a spiritual family, participatory meetings, servanthood over hierarchy, simplicity of meeting together, relational discipleship, and incarnational ministry, the better I am for our house churches AND the more useful I become in encouraging my friends in the traditional church.
All of this is to say you can be a part of an organic house church and not have to hate the traditional church that you came from. Continue making disciples. The Lord will build His church. Stop having the argument. Plant Kingdom gardens and let the fruit speak for itself.
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.
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.
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.
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.”