Gathering Under Christ’s Headship

organic_churchThe next step in this journey was to begin to meet with other believers that have also left the institutional church.  Meeting with others in the body of Christ is very much part of New Testament teaching.  We need one another.  My wife knew an older couple that we could fellowship with.  They had been out of the institutional church for several years.  We began to meet with them on a weekly basis in the beginning.  Our meetings were focused on sharing what Christ had been teaching us, or Scriptures that we were reading. These meetings also had some great food involved as well.  We would sit and talk for several hours, and the time seemed to fly right by.  There was no sermon or teaching given by one individual that would send us straight into nap mode.  We all had the opportunity to share and use our gifts. Our gatherings weren’t run by any one person.

In meeting like this, we grew to have a close bond with not only this couple, but their family as well.  In time, another younger couple joined our fellowship and made it even richer.  The husband was a musician and would lead us in worship songs.  This made our meetings even better.  We had no leader or pastor to lead our meetings.  Jesus Christ was our leader and we followed His lead.  I would consider the older couple as elders, but this was only natural for them with their wisdom and experience. After experiencing this form of “organic church”, I cannot see myself ever returning to the institutional church.

I have recently relocated on my own to Arizona due to a change in my family situation.  I have looked into finding an “organic church” meeting with the help of Milt Rodriguez of www.therebuilders.org.  So far there aren’t any meetings in my area.  Perhaps it is time that I should begin one, Lord willing.  I still meet via Google Hangouts with the older couple on a weekly basis.  While we aren’t in the same room, the rich fellowship is the same.  I can see in my own life, how the Lord is helping me to know Him in a deeper way and to rely on Him for all my needs.  He has shown me that He “is my life” as quoted in Galatians 2:20.  Conventional thinking would say that I should be going backwards in my relationship with Christ by not being in the institutional church.  I would say that it is just the opposite, and would invite anyone to step out of the institution and into a deeper walk with Christ.

Getting Kicked Out of Church

For the next few years I was in a smaller mega church where I met my wife.  After about 2 years both of us felt as if churchsomething was missing at this church.  The sermons seemed to be the same messages from a few months ago.  The outline changed a bit but it was the same stuff.  I was tired of designing worship services to attract the unchurched.  We both felt that we needed a change.  We sought out a church that was closer to our home and we found one nearby.  After attending there for a while, my wife began to volunteer in the office and worked closely with the lead pastor.

The pastor invited a “prophet” named Clint Glenny to come and speak each night for a week.  Brother Clint shared a lot about the end times and the state of the church in the U.S.  The messages resonated with me, and I looked forward to each meeting.  We had the opportunity to have dinner with he and his wife and we were able to be encouraged by it.  He suggested we read a book by Frank Viola and George Barna called, “Pagan Christianity?”.

Then my wife began to have some tension with the lead pastor.  We scheduled a meeting with he and his associate to discuss matters and hopefully find some resolution. This meeting did not go well for either side.  The pastor told us that if we could not submit to his leadership then we would need to leave.  It felt to me like I was being kicked out of a church.  I had never been kicked out of a church in all my life as a Christian.  I felt totally out of my element.

The first couple of Sunday mornings I was a nervous wreck.  I didn’t feel comfortable with not going to church.  I decided to purchase the book “Pagan Christianity?”  This helped me to do something in the meantime.  As I poured through this book, I began to see the origins of some of the traditions that we have accepted over the past 1800 years.  Many practices and traditions of the modern western church do not line up with the New Testament teaching.  Well, some would quote many a verse to prove that they are.  But when you look at these same verses in context, they show that the modern western church is way off base.

(to be continued…)

Venturing Out

3d91289c38b6fa8a3a903566b5571c8c_viewThis is a brief account of this man’s journey from being firmly rooted into the institutional church to leaving the institution and coming to know Christ in a real way for the first time in a very long time.  It would seem to many that this concept of leaving “church” and truly finding Christ is backwards.  Now, I didn’t leave the Church, because I am always a part or member of the body of Christ, thus I am the Church.  But I did leave what is called the “institutional church”. Now I define the “institutional” church as those churches that are under the leadership of a pastor or priest and meet in a building on a weekly basis.  The alternative, as I will explain later is “organic church”.  This is a gathering of believers under the headship of Jesus Christ alone.

I have been a Christian since 1982.  I was a sophomore in high school when I went to a New Year’s eve event at a small church I was attending.  They were showing a Billy Graham film and I heard the Gospel message for the first time.  Two days later I received the Lord into my life on a hill just off of a local beach in California.  This is the very short version of my testimony. The pastor of this local church after interacting with me for a year told me he believed I was called to full time ministry.  So after graduating high school, I set off for Bible college in Indiana.  After one semester I decided it wasn’t for me and returned to California.

Then a few years later I returned to the same church and began my journey as a youth pastor.  I volunteered and worked with junior high and high school students for a number of years. In 1999 I was given the opportunity to be a credentialed minister in the Church of God (Anderson, IN) and become the associate pastor of a church in San Jose, CA.  I thought I was finally fulfilling the Lord’s call on my life by being an official pastor.  This position also allowed me to team up with my former youth pastor and friend, who was the lead pastor of this particular church.  It was a small congregation of about 150 people.  The focus was on being a seeker sensitive church that modeled the principles of Saddleback Church, lead by Rick Warren.

After a few years at this church I came to realize that my own personal issues were getting in the way of effectively ministering to people, so I resigned.  I attended a local seeker sensitive mega church for a few years.  It was during this period that I decided to go back to school to finish my bachelors degree in Christian Leadership with the hopes of returning to vocational ministry. There was one course in particular that I can see was the catalyst for planting the seed of moving me out of the institutional church.  It was a course of developing a Biblical worldview.  The textbooks and discussions on this topic caused me to question how “church” was being done in the U.S.  I had pastored in a seeker sensitive model, but I was coming to realize that this doesn’t line up with the model given in the new testament.  I saw my need to repent of preaching messages and using scriptures out of their intended context.  I was more interested in verses that fit my neat outline versus what those verses really meant.

(to be continued in Part 2)

Keep the Government Out of Church

church-vs-state1Recently, there was an article posted on the blog of The Weekly Standard (http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/hhs-publishes-sample-church-bulletin-insert-promote-obamacare_852728.html) that was rather disturbing to me. The article focuses on how recently the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has partnered with churches and other faith based organizations around the country.  The purpose of this partnership was to distribute bulletin inserts encouraging parishioners to sign up for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) as well as an announcement from the pulpit.

Now, I have no problem with the HHS encouraging people to sign up for health care that need it.  I do however, have a problem with the government (the State) putting their agenda into the bulletins of congregations that are supposed to be under the Lordship of Jesus Christ alone.  This to me seems a clear violation of what many deem the “separation of church and state”.  Do you suppose that the HHS would allow a Christian organization to place gospel tracts into their literature to be given to people?  I don’t think that they would.  They would cry foul and claim it is a violation of church and state.  So, why would congregations around the country allow themselves to be used by the state to push their agenda for health care?  I would conclude that they have lost their focus on who they are and whose agenda they are to communicate.

Churches that are under the lordship of Christ are supposed to focus their message on Christ, and Christ alone.  The Church is supposed to take care of the widow, the orphan, and the poor.  These are ministries that the Church has continued to do for the last 2000 years.  The Church is supposed to place their focus on the Kingdom of God and the purpose of God, not government programs.  The gathering of believers in Christ for a service is to worship the Lord Jesus Christ and to share Christ with one another.  He is to be the center of the worship service.  Now I realize that announcements are generally given at these services, but they too must focus on the life of the Church and not on any state sponsored agenda.  The Apostle Paul knew what his purpose and message was to be about.  He said, For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Cor. 4:5 NKJV)  What is preached today in many churches is also subject to debate, but that is another blog post entirely.

The government has spent enough money on television, printed media, and internet advertising to promote Obamacare.  They do not need to place inserts into the worship bulletins of Christian congregations.  The news media around the country has also given Obamacare quite a bit of publicity and coverage as well.  Yet, in spite of this partnership, the government has banned pastors from publicly endorsing measures and candidates from the pulpit, but it is fine for the HHS to promote their agenda in a Christian church.  I don’t think so.  This is a double standard on the part of the government.  Congregations under the Lordship of Christ should have no part of it.

The “Branding” of a Pastor or Church


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I recently came across this article posted at wnd.com.  I remember hearing a speech from the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower about the rise and danger of the “military industrial complex”.  This article makes me think about the rise and danger of the “evangelical industrial complex”.

http://www.wnd.com/2013/07/pastor-inc-takes-over-the-american-church/?cat_orig=diversions

I would agree with most of this article.  If you have walked into a “Christian” book store lately you have seen all of the books by Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, etc.  These mega pastors have all become a branding icon rather than simply being leaders of a local church.  This is another glaring example of how the “institutional” church has been lead astray from the headship of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Religion or Relationship?

“If you want to be a good Christian and please the Lord, then you need to read your Bible everyday.”  “If you really want SpiritualDisciplinesCollage1-300x240
to grow in your faith you need to volunteer on a ministry team at church.”  “If you’re not witnessing to your unsaved co-workers and family regularly you aren’t very mature as a Christian.”

I have been around church folk long enough to hear these comments in my 30 years as a Christian.  Over the years I have heard comments like this and found myself feeling guilty for not measuring up to someone who I perceived as being more “mature” than myself.  These thoughts of not doing enough, combined with my “habitual sins” have left me feeling so far away from experiencing God’s love and the presence of Christ, my savior.  I have discovered over the last year that I have been practicing the religion of Christianity rather than the relationship with Jesus Christ.

Thankfully, the Lord has revealed to me some of the reasons behind my keeping my distance from Him.  It revolves around fear and guilt.  Now, generally speaking most religions of the world are based upon a works based system of pleasing their god.  There is a natural fear of the consequences of not doing enough to earn your way to heaven, nirvana, or some other after life idea.  Yet, in the western institutional church, there is still a level of doing good works to please God on top of trusting in Christ for salvation.  Granted, works will be a natural outflow of gratitude towards Christ for salvation, but it shouldn’t be a series of “have to’s” to be followed.  A dear friend of mine reminded me recently, “If you have to do something for Christ, then it isn’t of Christ.”  What this means is, any service we do for our Lord should be motivated purely out of our love and devotion to Him rather than a out of duty.

The antidote for this mindset of guilt and doing things out of a sense of duty is to be reminded of His love and complete forgiveness.  For myself, it also means forgiving myself for my past failures and accepting His perfect forgiveness.  More on this in future post.

“God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.  And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.  Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.”  1 John 4:17-18 NLT

Are you practicing the religion of the Christian life or living Christianity through a vital relationship with Christ?

Reminding the Accuser

AccuserOfBrethren“You’re no good.”  “You can’t be forgiven for that.”  “A real Christian would never do that.”  “You need to feel bad all day long after the sin you just committed.” 

I have heard these words many times since I began my journey with Christ.  I have had loving brothers and sisters in Christ tell me many times that I shouldn’t pay any attention to these words.  Yet, I have paid attention to them and even believed them many times.  But, not anymore.  My brother Mike reminded me very recently that when the Accuser, Satan, the devil says these things to me I must turn it around.  Instead of allowing the devil to remind me of my past failures, I need to remind him of his future.  It says of Satan in Revelation 12:10b, “… for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.”  He accuses us of our past sins and those besetting sins that weigh us down on a regular basis.  But, take heart because we are assured that he has been cast down. As believers in Christ we have an advocate who stands in our favor, Jesus Christ.  The next time I am feeling the weight of accusation by our Enemy, I will thank Jesus for his grace, and I will remind Satan of these words from Scripture.

“When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore.  They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.  And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”    Revelation 20:7-10

I can say that my sins have been forgiven and covered by the precious blood of Christ.  But as for the accuser, he is a defeated, but powerful foe, that is on his way to torment.

Revelation Missing

revelation1I heard somewhere before, “Information without revelation will never lead to transformation.”  I thought this was a true statement for many years.  However, now I think this is not accurate.  I wonder if information has anything at all to do with any kind of significant life transformation.  For instance, there appears to be a strong emphasis in the institutional church today in America on information.  The evidence for this seems clear.  How many preachers have you watched on television?  How many have you heard on the radio?  How many of their books have you read lately?  These are the modern-day forms of Christian information.  But, have any of these forms of information overload actually brought about any real life change?  Have they caused you to fall in love with Christ at a deeper level?  They haven’t for me, and I am a former pastor who has a lot of information in these old noggin of mine.

Yet, all of this information that I could boast about has not truly brought me into a more personal, loving relationship with Christ.  Now, there is nothing wrong with having biblical information in itself.  But, it will never lead you into a deeper relationship with Christ.  “… But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.”  1 Cor. 8:1b  In this verse, Paul is saying to the believers in Corinth that knowledge leads to pride, whereas love leads to mutual encouragement.  Knowledge has become an idol for many believers in the western church, myself included.  Has the search for knowledge about Christ, lead to a lack of authentic love for Christ in the lives of believers?

I have been brought to a place in the past year that has made me see I need Christ to reveal himself to me, rather than for me to learn more about him from studying.  My prayer this morning was for Him to strip away any knowledge I have that is not of Him or that misrepresents who He really is.  I leave you with this thought.  I heard this verse last night and it has been intriguing me ever since,  “But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me…” Gal. 1:15,16.  Is your desire for the Father to reveal His Son in you?

You Are Not Alone Article

I wanted to share my first post to express the journey I have been on for the past two years.

This is an article from one of my favorite authors on the deeper journey with Christ, Frank Viola (no, not the former major league pitcher).  This article can also be found on his website at: www.frankviola.org

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“The desperate need today is not for a great number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.”

~ Richard Foster

In this post, I want to provide a platform for the sentiments of those who have moved “beyond evangelical” and are part of “the deeper journey.”

Countless Christians I’ve met have uttered these statements in face-to-face conversations, over emails, over coffee at conferences, and on this blog. I’ve compiled them all, editing them slightly for consistency.

Together, they form a collective confession of sorts reflecting the thoughts and feelings of those of us who are on “the deeper journey.”

*We have grown tired of the media routinely characterizing “evangelicals” as if we were all part of “the Christian Right.”

*We have become weary of Christian progressives deeming themselves to be the “new evangelicals” in reaction to “the Religious Right.”

*We are turned off by the left vs. right posturing and the left vs. right political/theological debates.

*We’ve looked to the right and do not wish to venture there. We’ve looked to the left and do not wish to venture there either. The direction we feel pulling our hearts is above and forward.

*We believe that both the Religious Right and the Religious Left have vital truths to contribute. We also believe that they are both missing vital truths. We believe their focus is mainly “issues” rather than Jesus Christ.

*We want to see the Christian Right and the Christian Left learn from one another as well as learn from those of us who are not part of either stream. We feel that all Christians should be open to learn from one another, for we are all parts of the Body of Christ. None of us has the lock on all truth. Each member of the Body has a portion of the riches of Christ.

*We are sickened that so many evangelical Christians are either legalists or libertines. We want Christ’s lordship and we want His liberty as well. We wish to follow Jesus without being legalistic or libertine.

*We hold to the orthodox teachings of Scripture regarding the Person of Christ, His work on the cross, the inspiration and truth of the Bible, the Triune nature of God (the Godhead), but we are weary of Christians dividing over peripheral doctrines and their own private interpretations of Scripture on non-essentials. We passionately agree with Augustine’s sentiment: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”

*We’ve grown weary of the way that Christians routinely mistreat their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, being quick to judge their motives, thinking the worst of them, condemning them, slandering them, gossiping about them, etc. We believe that being a Christian means treating others the same way you want to be treated (Matt. 7:12)—the forgotten words of Jesus. With deep remorse, we empathize with the words of Gandhi: “If it weren’t for the Christians, I’d be a Christian.”

*We’ve grown tired of the shallowness that marks so much of evangelical Christianity today. The same sermons, the same principles, the same teachings, etc. We are looking for depth in the Christian life. We know there’s more to Jesus Christ, more to His church, and more to the spiritual life than what’s been promoted in establishment Christianity. There is a cry in our hearts that says, “There’s got to be more than this.”

*We are saddened that the doers, feelers, and thinkers of the body of Christ have separated and isolated themselves from one another instead of learning from each other.

*We’ve grown sick of the entertainment-driven, duty-driven, guilt-driven message that’s laced in most Christian sermons and books today. Human-induced guilt and the conviction of the Holy Spirit are two very different things.

*We are tired of the tendency of some Christians to elevate certain sins that others commit while minimizing or justifying their own sins.

*We’ve grown tired of Christian leaders attacking and competing with one another, instead of networking together and supporting one another.

*We’re weary of the “good ole’ boy system” that’s present in much of establishment Christianity today because it ends up elevating and protecting the status quo and silencing the voices of the prophets.

* We’ve grown sick of Christians saying nasty things about their fellow brethren (whom they don’t know personally) on social media networks. And then justifying it in the name of God.

*We are saddened that so many Christians will believe what they hear about other believers second or third-hand, instead of going to those believers themselves and simply asking them questions in good faith.

*We’ve grown weary of some Christians falsely branding their fellow sisters and brothers in Christ with the words “heretic” and “apostate” when those same believers actually uphold the orthodox creeds of the faith.

*We’ve grown tired of Christians trying to rope us into the liberal vs. conservative battles of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

*We abhor elitism and sectarianism. We are open to all Christians of all stripes, receiving all whom Christ has received (Rom. 15:7).

* We stand for the unity of the Body of Christ. At the same time, we fiercely and passionately stand firm on our convictions regarding the absolute and unvarnished supremacy of Jesus, His indwelling life, God’s timeless purpose, and the church as a Christ-centered community.

*We want the Lord. We want spiritual depth and reality. We want HIM in all of His fullness. Everything else is secondary to us, and often, we find them to be largely a distraction.

If you resonate with any of the above sentiments, then be encouraged: You are not alone.