Follow-through

Bowling is one of the most popular sports in America, though some struggle to label it a sport. I would conclude it is a sport because of its competitive nature, score-keeping, some athletic ability is required and it has aired on ESPN (at least ESPN2). While bowling is certainly available to the masses and requires little training to play, a definite chasm exists between casual bowlers and competitive masters. Aside from their designer wrist-guards, highly-personalized bowling balls and shoes reminding all of an era gone by, these men and women truly have talent for hurling a weighted ball at 10 unsuspecting odd-shaped targets.

I remember learning to bowl in 4th grade. Rosedell Elementary began an after-school program and I was enrolled. My grandpa was an avid bowler and my parents still had their bowling paraphernalia of a decade earlier. I thought I might have the gene. After a great deal of time and practice, I learned to hold my own but it never amounted the career I dreamed (ok, not really dreamed). However, the most important lesson I learned from a true expert was to follow-through. You could step the right steps, release the ball well, and even look great doing it, but without follow-though, the ball would likely miss most of the abused ten pins. What I believed about the ball and its trajectory mattered little without good follow-through. Don’t get me wrong, I was still a bowler. But without good follow-through, I was utterly ineffective.

James 2 begins painting a picture of follow-through. He opens the chapter with a challenge to treat everyone equally with love and a heart to serve. The church was no place for partiality. Brothers and sisters in Christ are equal no matter their upbringing, race, socio-economic status or appearance. He then follows this discussion by writing a difficult passage about Faith and Works. “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17 ESV) Remember that taken in context, James isn’t discussing salvation but instead refuting ineffective and apathetic Christianity. These Christians were still lacing up their shoes, pulling out their colorful ball, and displayed their league and team colors. But they lacked follow-through.

Scripture is full of mandates to effectively follow-through your beliefs. If we say we really believe something, like Scripture, why do we not live like it? Why do I not? My kids, my neighbors, my co-workers and my friends are watching my follow-through every day. Frankly, they don’t care what I look like or if my ball curves brilliantly down the lane. They are watching to see if the pins fall. They are watching to see if I am faithful to live what I say I believe. Only then will I attract them to this amazing game. Only then will they see that it isn’t a game at all. How’s your follow-through?

Still Wobbly…

I have a confession to make. It is difficult to admit but true nonetheless. I like quiche. I am addicted to eggs, cheese and that amazing pastry pie crust. Together, they make a mouthwatering combination with a feminine name. About a month ago, my wife Jessie decided to use a quiche recipe she discovered. Considering the booming preschool population at our home, times arise where I must learn to check to the food in the oven for completeness. The litmus test for quiche – is it still wobbly?

Paul, sensing the end of his life, penned a powerful epitaph in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” These inspiring words have launched many sermons and emboldened those facing persecution or death. This verse paints a vivid picture of a man completely devoted to the cause of Jesus Christ now laying down after a long journey running full speed. Yet it is not the finish that makes Paul’s marathon meaningful but every step along the way. At another time, we read these words, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14

Accomplishment and success can easily lead to complacency. In our walk with Christ, complacency often results in a comfortable feeling of arrival. Or in quiche terms, we become “set”. I have been in the oven of Christendom more that seventeen years and I find it easy to “set” living a comfortable life with my wife and 2.3 (really 3) children in suburban America. However, the words of Scripture draw me to a place of wobbliness. I must recognize that I am far from complete and will only reach that moment when my fight is complete as well. But for now, I have to keep fighting, keep running, keep the faith real and life-changing. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, God gives us the strength, courage and prodding to live wobbly lives. No matter how many years the oven browns us on the surface, may our hearts remain flesh, moldable and movable by an unpredictable and untamable God.

Are you still wobbly?

Authority, Arrogance, and Control: But its really not a bad idea

The house church movement seems to be gaining some steam throughout America. Many believers, distraught and utterly frustrated with church experience have turned to the house church. The basic definition of a house church is a church meeting in someone’s home. Obviously smaller than most American churches, many house churches seek to recapture the early church experience and community. There is no doubt that good intentions and pure hearts are behind much of this movement but with those come others seeking the antithesis of what the movement stands for.

Speaking in generalities of the American church is akin to calling everything in the ocean a fish. So much discrepancy exists, even within denominations, that it is impossible to paint broad brush strokes in hopes of capturing a true picture of the church landscape. The American church is much more a mosaic than an impressionist painting. That being said, Scripture sets the same standard for each piece of the mosaic. House churches have become one of the newer pieces of the larger artwork. Some will meet real needs and create outstanding community members could not find elsewhere. There is no doubt of its success overseas, especially in persecuted lands. Hopefully, the house church movement will reach those in the darkness and bring them to the light of Jesus Christ. My prayer is that God will use that piece of the mosaic to make disciples and meet needs otherwise unmet. All that being said, common themes are beginning to emerge that send a message seemingly against the very core of the house church origin.

Authority

One pervasive theme throughout is a natural reaction to spiritual abuse from a position of authority. Churches from all denominations have lost the trust of members because of abuse. Pastors and/or Priests have been convicted of sexual misconduct, financial misconduct among various other immoral actions. The wave of abuse has hit American Christendom painfully hard. Yet, the overwhelming majority of Pastors and Priests continue to have a heart for the people they shepherd and lead. For every situation of abuse, there are thousands of men and women giving their lives for those they minister to.

A major motivation of many house churches is a rejection of any authority other than Christ. Christ is the head of the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23) and no person in spiritual authority should ever attempt supplant that role. However, there is no doubt that authority rested on the Apostles who then placed others in authority to shepherd the churches. Complete rejection of authority is not a biblical concept. Rejection of authority that leads away from Christ is biblical. Yet, we all come under submission of spiritual authority in our lives. We submit one to another and to those God has placed over – even ungodly governments when not asked to compromise God’s Truth.

Arrogance

A quick search of house church networks online quickly reveals the arrogance of many embracing this movement. Many will argue that “real” church happens in homes and the biblical model prescribes home gatherings as opposed to the purchase of land, buildings, etc. The root of such a heart and attitude stands in stark contrast with the initial purposes for beginning such a church. The desire to humbly seek God in close community where all are accountable to one another appears to be the most normal reason given to leave an existing large church and form a house church. However, writing off the former church or proclaiming that all who practice in such “institutions” are false or less than real displays enormous arrogance. Nearly 2000 years after the resurrection of Christ and we are finally get our act together. There is no place in Christianity for such a heart towards brothers and sisters in Christ.

As far as biblical context is concerned, the early church did meet in homes. However, the Bible neither commands nor prescribes the model discussed in Acts and the letters to the churches. Instead, the Text gives principles governing the body of Christ and leaves structure out of the discussion. On top of this, the earliest church met in the Synagogue. Though this practice only persisted a short time, early believers were Jewish and did not consider Christianity a new faith. Jesus is Messiah, fulfilled the law and was worshipped in the context of Judaism.

Control

One final point of contention deals with the issue of control. Leaving an existing church because it doesn’t do what I want or doesn’t meet my needs is simply a control issue. We would do well as Christ followers to spend as much time praying for God’s clear direction for our church as we do complaining about all of the issues we see contained in it. It appears that the newest form of church shopping is simply beginning my own. In doing so, I can structure it to function how I desire. Of course it will be biblical, I am biblical. Understanding this point is being generalized, it is not coincidence that house churches emerge in the most me-centric culture on our planet. The success of the house church movement is out of sheer necessity across the globe in persecuted lands. In America, we begin them because we are dissatisfied with our own local church. Maybe our knees would be a better place to start.

The Church mosaic is large and diverse in America. House churches may add another critical element God uses to accomplish His purposes here. Again, my prayer is such. But let’s not pretend that because I have control, it will be right. God’s church, the body of Christ, does not depend on buildings or the lack thereof. It does not depend on structure or the lack thereof. It depends on Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit empowering each member to live the light of the Gospel in the darkness. It depends on an undying devotion to His Word, the Bible. Otherwise, it always becomes about me.

Right

“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes.” Proverbs 21:2

Making decisions is undoubtedly one of the most stressful life experiences. Thousands of decisions are made each day ranging from the mundane of choosing shoes to wear to the life-altering. The more life-impacting, the more stressful the decision. I am thankful God gave us a brain and thought processes to evaluate each decision. Often times these procedures, however they look for each individual, lead to good choices resulting in positive life strides. Why then should we be concerned with decisions if we have such positive abilities and acumen on our side?

The statement Proverbs 21:2 makes centers on a simple little word, “right.” How does one define right? Is it the best for a person’s life? Does a right decision lead to more success, more wealth, more peace, more stability? Does a right decision lead to an easier, less complicated life? Is right the same for each person? I guess that is the point of Proverbs 21:2. Everyone does what is right in his own eyes. I don’t believe this verse is necessarily condemning what is right in a person’s mind but instead challenging the idea that we have it all together and figured out. The verse preceding this one illustrates that even a King is like a stream in God’s hand – God controls the flow and sends it wherever He desires.

I believe God cares about each decision we make. All of them have consequences, some greater and some lesser, but consequences none the less. But how often even in the greater decisions do I perform do-diligence and make the best decision void of the One who sees the forest and the trees. Followers of Christ have this unique indwelling of the very God of the universe. The Holy Spirit equips, convicts, encourages and guides. He is faithful to guide through every decision and circumstance but how often do we ask?

God will often give wisdom through the use of our brains and wise counsel but not always. The Bible is filled with stories of crossing raging rivers and gulfs on dry land…filled with stories where armies of 300 defeat tens of thousands…filled with stories of the success of the unlikely, the unwise, and the outnumbered. The Text even tells the story of the very Son of God being born in a smelly cave with animals and being laid in a feeding trough.

It just doesn’t seems right.

In reality, right is defined by God. He is right. His Word is right. His direction is right. While there are checks and balances in following His leading, learning to ask and then listen is critical. God, who sees the unforeseen outcomes and knows the unknowable nuances in every decision, waits to hear our hearts and then patiently guide. One of the earlier verses God used in my life to give direction is a simple verse found in Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

God may not lead us the places we think we should go but we can be sure He leads us down the right path.