A Really Good Question

“What is the church? Is it a building? Is it a people? Is it an institution?” This is the question Zach Hunt asked today on his blog, The American Jesus. It’s a great question and one my church proudly answers with a resounding “PEOPLE!”

But there are few questions in the Christian faith that are easily answered. Few. As in, maybe none! So I am not easily persuaded by one word answers. Something Scripture refers to as the Bride of Christ needs a little further explanation.

Today’s Friday Faves consist of one article. Are you ready?

Blogmatics: The Church

Happy Friday folks!

A Bad Case of “Individualitis”

Below you will find a 40 minute message given by Andrew Wilson. I’ve never heard of him, but he just punched me right in the gut. A nasty habit of thought, that is seemingly rooted very deeply in my heart, has come crashing to the surface. It’s called “individualitis,” and here’s how it looks in my life:

I am scared to death I will amount to nothing in this world and my name will be forgotten. I’ll even Christianize it for you…I am scared I will not make huge strides for God’s Kingdom.  I am drowning in my own head because of this anti-community, self-absorbed way of thinking. I’m suffocating under this pressure to change my surrounding world. Change it!

Simply put, ordinary is failure. I can’t be ordinary–what can God do with that?

Arrogance, pride, unbiblical understanding of God, his church, my identity, my role…these are just a few problems that result from individualitis.  I will contemplate these things for many months ahead. But now I strongly encourage you to take 40 minutes and listen to this message. It’s the best I’ve ever heard…but maybe because I needed to hear it so badly.

The “Beautiful Mess” of the Church – Part 4

This is the final installment of the mini-series “The ‘Beautiful Mess’ of the Church.” Check out Part 1,  Part 2 and Part 3.

To end this series, I would like to share with you a story by Mez McConnall, Pastor and author of Is Anybody Out There (you can read my short review here).  In this particular story, his church, Niddrie Community, is ministering to a group of broken individuals in order to share the gospel. It is beautiful. It is messy. And there is no better picture of the church Jesus died for.

Thank you for following along in this series with me.

Welcome To Our Church Weekend Away: Don’t Forget Your Beer

by Mez-

We have our annual church weekend away coming up this weekend at Niddrie Community Church. Last year we had an amazing time when at least half a dozen people made commitments to Christ. Of those, 5 of them are still going on a year later. That in itself is remarkable given the high fallout rate we experience in schemes with those professing faith.

We have such a mix of people that one of the biggest headaches (behind the scenes) is ensuring that everybody brings the right medication along with them to get through the weekend. We have to ensure that their doctors know they are coming and their care workers and/or social services are aware of where they are going to be. There is Methadone (a prescribed Heroin substitute) to sort out, Valium prescriptions, antipsychotics and a whole host of other things we need to be on top of to make sure things run smoothly.

Now I don’t want to give the impression that everybody is popping pills in the church. On the contrary, we have several coming along who are professionals in medicine, business and computing (to name a few). The beauty of working in Niddrie is that people of such differing backgrounds and worldviews can come together and sit under the teaching of the Bible for a weekend. Friendships are forged and strengthened and, God willing, souls are saved and encouraged.

Perhaps one of the people who cause us the most concern are our alcoholics. We don’t have that many with us at the moment but we do have a few. In many ways it is a much more pernicious addiction (not that we rate them) than drugs, often because of the very public nature of the problem once a person becomes overly inebriated (drug addicts mainly conk out when they have taken too much, Valium aside). Quiet souls can quickly turn into raging mad(wo)men. The problem with alcoholics joining us is that it’s not like we can pop to the pharmacist to pick up their medication and then help distribute it over the weekend. We have to actually ensure that they are drinking enough alcohol to keep them safe but not too much so that they become drunk. All while ensuring we are very clear that this is a lifestyle that is both idolatrous and wholly destructive! On top of that we have to be careful particularly with those who come who have had an alcohol problem in the past or are in the process of being alcohol free.

Let’s consider the case of one man currently with us:  His alcohol intake has been so staggeringly high for nearly 20 years (exceeding 15 litres of alcohol per day) that for him to stop outright – according to received medical advice –  has a high probability of killing him as his body goes into shock. This is a person who needs 3 litres of Cider and a six-pack before he can even get out of bed in the morning! He is 40 years old, has destroyed his life, doesn’t see his children and is estranged from his family. He can’t work and is barely able to function and has no true friends. When we found him he was at rock bottom and coming off the back of several suicide attempts. He turned up at the church one day as a last resort because he heard we ‘help’ people. In the last month or so he has been reading the Bible for the first time in his life, coming along to Bible studies and this week sat through his first ever Sunday service. He is very keen to learn more about the faith and asks all sorts of very interesting questions. He is what we would call a genuine seeker and is no danger to anybody but himself. He wants to come away for the weekend and learn more about Jesus because he likes our community life and because, frankly, he has nothing better to do but sit in his flat alone drinking day and night.

The question is: do we ask him to stay away because we know he will not survive the weekend without a drink? Or do we encourage him to get enough beer to enable him to function without getting drunk and ensure he spends a weekend with a variety of Christians, hears the gospel (that we believe God is drawing him toward), pray for his salvation and hope that this is the start of a spiritual awakening in which God is going to completely transform his life? My answer? Point me to the nearest shop and I will buy him the beers myself!

Sometimes work in this ministry is just not black and white. Should he be drinking? No. Never mind whether it’s at a Christian weekend or not. It is killing him. But I would rather him functioning and able to hear the gospel rather than (a) absent and drinking anyway (more so) or (b) so distracted by being dry that he doesn’t compute the message. The ideal is getting him into a drying out facility but even that is difficult because he would be considered ‘high risk’ by the medical profession given his levels of consumption. The probability is that he would have to do a community detox – bring his drinking levels down – before he could get into a serious rehabilitation clinic. Certainly, that’s the direction he is headed but for now we are seeking to treat his soul, which is in a far more precarious position than his drinking problem is masking. His unbelief will ultimately kill him. Forever.

Pray for us this weekend as we meet together. Pray for God to save souls and transform lives to be conformed to the image of Jesus. That’s what we ultimately want for each of us. But on schemes, the starting point is not always ideal and we have to live with that and adjust accordingly – not to worldliness – but to helping people out of the pit and leading them toward the glorious light of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

About the Author

Mez has been the Senior Pastor of Niddrie Community Church since September 2007. Prior to that he spent 4 years with UFM Worldwide working with street children in Brazil, and planted the Good News Church in one of the most deprived parts of the country. He is married to Miriam and has 2 girls, Keziah and Lydia.

*The original posting of this story can be found here.

The “Beautiful Mess” of The Church – Part 3

This is the third installment of the mini series “The ‘Beautiful Mess’ of the Church.” Check out Part 1 and Part 2.

Have you ever been hurt by the church?

I have. Many times actually. I’ve been hurt by the leadership of the church and friends in the church. I’ve been a part of church splits, seen Pastors lie and old ladies run the thing with their cane and checkbook. The church is sinful.

If not for God, then the sin of the church is all there is to it. It would just be a hypocritical and invalid “business.”

But God has decided to back the church with his very name. Every bride takes the name of her husband. Because of this, the story of the church doesn’t end with her sin and failure. It ends with purity, victory and Jesus– and for all eternity.

Until that end, we get to promote a holy God’s abundant grace. We get to stop pretending, and collectively as a church family, humble ourselves and proclaim our need for Jesus. This is freedom!

This is the only way we (I) can forgive the people of the church that hurt us. Not just forgive, but love and serve them with our lives. Jesus gives us the ability to do this, because it was never about us in the first place. We love because He first loved us. We serve the church and those around us as a response to Him. If we loved and served based off other people’s treatment of us, who would there be left to serve? There is more to Christianity than just me–all my desires, my feelings, my history, my future. Loving and serving the church is not about any of us. Forgiveness is not about any of us. It’s about God and who He is–Master and Creator, Lord and King, Savior and Redeemer of our souls. We forgive and extend grace because that is what God does for us.

It is in the mess that we have a wonderful opportunity to model Jesus to the world.

That is beautiful.

“What we must remember, especially when it gets really messy, is that no amount of mess will ever invalidate the church’s place as the principal context for service to God and one another. God calls us to serve regardless of the mess. He uses our service to address not only the mess, but messed up people” (Nate Palmer, Servanthood As Worship).

The “Beautiful Mess” of the Church – Part 2

This is the second installment of the mini series, “The ‘Beautiful Mess’ of the Church.” Check out Part 1.

I last ended with the idea that if the church hides its mess it hides God. Let’s pursue this further.

It is impossible to understand sin and not understand the grace of God, and you can’t understand God’s grace without understanding sin. It is a two-for-one deal. This isn’t all there is know about the human condition and it is certainly not all there is to God. Consider sin and grace the starting point of the Christian’s journey.

It is all about Jesus.

Sin–we are totally incapable of living out God’s law with perfection (Romans 3:10). Jesus came and lived a perfect life for us (2 Corinthians 5:21;1 Peter 2:22). We are in need of a sacrifice to atone for our rebellion against God (Romans 3:25). Jesus is the sacrificial lamb that took away our sin (John 1:29).

Grace–God planned our salvation. He orchestrated our escape from eternal punishment through his Son, Jesus (Acts 2:23).  God can forgive our sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus (Romans 4:25). As Christians, we boast of God’s grace because it is the only reason we are not dead in our sin (Ephesians 2:8). We are forgiven because of Jesus, redeemed because of Jesus, and covered because of Jesus.

So what does all this have to do with the church?

Jesus is God’s great revelation of Himself to the world, and He is the cornerstone of the church (Ephesians 2:20). Why did Jesus come? Because we are dead in our trespasses and sins, and God wanted to restore us all back to himself. Remember…sin and grace! It is the starting point and basic truth of the Christian church.

Now, forget everything I have just said. Don’t bother with Jesus being the cornerstone. And stop talking about the grace stuff.  Instead, take your sin and hide it. Put on the fake smiles and dress your children in pretty clothes.  Make sure you have a good cover story for why your husband isn’t with you when you get there. When asked about your week, leave the part out where you drank yourself into sleep four-out-of-seven nights. Don’t talk about your 19 year old who is in jail for the second time this year. He’ll bring shame to your family. And please, please don’t talk about the voices in your head. You would freak everybody out. This isn’t a loony house you know.

With Jesus hidden, this is what the church becomes.

The “Beautiful Mess” of the Church – Part 1

This is an introduction to a new mini series I’m calling, “The ‘Beautiful Mess’ of the Church.” It is inspired by the book Servanthood as Worship by Nate Palmer.

During a recent small group meet, we talked a lot about the messiness of the church. People are the church, so it can get pretty ugly (people=sinners). Fortunately, Jesus loves to take a mess and make it beautiful. This is why the church is a wonderful example of His grace.

Palmer says, “The beautiful thing is that God meets us in the mess. People are served in the mess. Ultimately, Christ will redeem the mess. One reason the church is the primary context for serving is because it is where messy people go when they need help.”

Only God could create such a place. Sometimes it is beautiful, and sometimes it is absolutely hideous. Even still, God has designed the church to tell of His son, Jesus, knowing we were going to be messy. That takes away my excuse to run from the church when she hurts me, or when hypocrisy is rampant, or when my own mess is overwhelming.

The worst thing we can do as the people of God is pretend we have no sin or that our church is flawless.  This actually makes God out to be a liar, and it hides God’s grace from the world.

Palmer says the church is the best place for messy people. My pastor always says it’s where messed up people belong! The church knows the truth behind the mess, and it knows how to remedy it. With this mission to tell the truth, what place is there for pretending?

Hiding our sin behind the false reality of perfection is the result of pride. Our pride has huge implications for the unbelieving world.

Why?

If we hide our mess, we hide Him.

Worship and a Parched Soul

I read this blog post today from Doxology and Theology, and I loved it.

Stephen Miller says, “Don’t worry about how you look when you worship. Just go for it with all your heart.”

Since joining a2 Church, corporate worship has taken on a whole new look–a total makeover since the days of “please stand” ensued a corporate groan instead of a corporate song.  Worship has become like healing water to my parched soul every week. I don’t know about you, but by the time Sunday rolls around I’m tired from the battle against frustration, anxiety and just the plain ole tendency I have to sin.

My heart longs for Jesus. Singing with my church and listening together to God’s Word being preached is the best chance I have to revamp for the next week. It is so uplifting to do this with other people who love Jesus too. I love having my lone voice get swallowed up by the others around me proclaiming, “Your goodness knows no bounds/ Your goodness never stops/ Your mercy follows me/ Your kindness fill my life.”

When it comes to physically giving praise to our sweet savior, I want the posture of my heart to be humble. That may mean tears or a stomping foot. Either way, I don’t worry about how I look when I worship. I just want to go for it with all my heart.

“I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.”
Psalm 143:6