offense

Do I Even Need To Go To Church?

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I’ve been in church my whole life. Some of you who are familiar with my story know that, when I was a child, parts of our journey had devastating effects on my family. I’ve also been hurt more than once in the church as an adult, and have personally journeyed alongside my husband and family towards discovering what church truly is. I’ve wanted to quit more than once, both as a church-goer and as a woman in ministry. But I’ve stayed. I’ve kept at it. I believe in the power of the local church, not because it is perfect, but because Jesus loves and believes in the Church, and calls us to both build the Church and be the Church. I’ve given this quite some thought, and I want to share with you, both from Scripture and from my journey, about why I’ve stayed and continue to build the Church with passion.

What’s The Point?

Many times people don’t quit Jesus- they quit the church and its imperfect people. However, I believe that we as a people have lost our "WHY" for "temple worship", and it's meant to be simply this: to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. 

"11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." - Ephesians 4:11-16 ESV

Corporate gatherings, Sunday services, and the like, no matter how big or how small they are, if they're held in a YMCA, someone's home or a state-of-the-art auditorium, are all about EQUIPPING the SAINTS (simply put, followers of Jesus) to go out and DO the work of the ministry. To be UNIFIED in faith and the knowledge of the Son of God.

You may be thinking, "I can get just as equipped, if not more, reading a book at home on my own on Sundays rather than at a church service." Now, that may be true, but our gathering together goes beyond just equipping.

Can we do things like be equipped and worship outside of a church setting? Yes, and we should do those things,  but Hebrews 10:24-25 cannot happen if we do this alone, "24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." Gathering together is for more than just equipping; it's for worship, encouragement, and spurring one another on toward love and good deeds. It's for being a part of something bigger than yourself, for a purpose that resonates beyond yourself, for being a part of a community that will value you and, for better or worse, see you for who you are and push you to become an even better version of yourself, a.k.a. more like Christ.

When we isolate ourselves, we can become self-centered, seeking our own desires while spouting our own ideas before seeking understanding in a multitude of wisdom. 

1 A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire;
He rages against all wise judgment.
2 A fool has no delight in understanding,
But in expressing his own heart. - Proverbs 18:1-2 NKJV

Jesus didn't isolate; He had intentional solitude. Isolation is self-protection from society, whereas solitude is preparation for society. We have to know the difference. 

If you’ve been a believer for a while, you’re probably aware that corporate church gatherings aren’t all about you - they’re about being equipped to spread the Gospel to others. Lately, I've observed that there are multitudes of disgruntled millennials (to be clear, not all millennials), as well as hurt, angry and bored church-goers of every age that are dissatisfied with the "monotony" of going to church on Sundays. Recently, I have had one too many conversations with people that are saying, "I'm just not sure I believe in going to church on Sundays because I am the Church wherever I go." 

Of course WE ARE THE CHURCH wherever we go, but we cannot miss the integral part of gathering corporately in community. Sure, if Sundays have become the mark of "Christianity" for you, then you've been sold a watered-down Gospel. Go and read the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and the book of Acts all over again to see what we as followers of Jesus are all about. We're not simply "Sunday church-goers."

Before you throw Sundays (or gathering as the church corporately) out like a baby with the bathwater, consider its purpose in serving the body by preparing us to live out the Gospel in our daily lives.

As of late, I've been having great discussions with our good friends Tyler and Hannah Pines, sparked by having them look through the doctrine in my coming book, to be released this Fall. In a recent email discussion, Tyler wrote this powerful statement pointing to the "why" for corporate gathering:

The purpose of the Church, therefore, is not to save the world. That is the mission of the saints, who have been given the ministry of reconciliation (see 2 Cor 5:19-20). The purpose of the church is to equip the saints (Eph 4:11-13), to gather to stir each other in love and good works (Heb 10:24-25), and to worship God corporately in spirit and truth, as in the days of the tabernacle of David (Amos 9:11, John 4:24). - Tyler Pines

New believers and followers of The Way in the book of Acts were so desperate to be equipped and discipled that they gathered corporately in the temple DAILY and in each other's homes. 

It Was BOTH-AND

"42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 EVERY DAY THEY CONTINUED TO MEET TOGETHER IN THE TEMPLE COURTS. THEY BROKE BREAD IN THEIR HOMES AND ATE TOGETHER WITH GLAD AND SINCERE HEARTS, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." - Acts 2:42-47 NIV (Emphasis added)

The "temple model", if you will, is simply an opportunity for believers to be equipped. It is not the whole picture, but it is a fundamental part of it.

We gather corporately (Sundays, worship nights, prayer nights, conferences, etc.) to be equipped by the apostles, prophets, teachers, pastors and evangelists. For Jesus, this was from a boat on the lake so His voice would carry to the multitudes, going to the temple (as was His custom - Luke 4:16-21) and reading from the Torah or from a mountainside; really anywhere a crowd could gather and hear His voice. He created spaces for people to hear about the Kingdom of Heaven. After Jesus died, rose again, and had ascended to the right hand of the Father, they didn't destroy the temples and tell everyone to stop meeting there; they continued to use the space to gather so that new converts could be equipped to be followers of Jesus. We also see that they would then break bread in each others homes to disciple others and become disciples; it didn't just happen in the temple. Every day of the week, they had countless opportunities, as do we, to carry the Kingdom of Heaven living within to their every sphere of influence from neighbors to workplaces, to their own families, to the grocery store and beyond. 

But What About Discipleship?

Let's not be fooled. Discipleship is a slow burn over a lifetime, through every season, in loving community, coming in from countless facets. It’s not just a hot topic; it’s for a lifetime. We are never "perfect disciples" of Jesus. There is always more to learn and do. Just look at Jesus, and how He lived life intimately with 12 people over three years, and all the ways in which they learned from Him. They watched Him preach, teach the Torah and prophesy in the temple. They had front row seats to His life, often scratched their heads, gleaned from Him, were challenged by Him, listened to Him speak to the multitudes and also have time for the one. They watched Him heal, deliver and make whole the least of these. They were activated in their faith, but also confronted and challenged in their unbelief. And when He ascended, He left it to His disciples to do what He had modeled for them -  to continue to be taught by the Holy Spirit and to disciple others in "The Way". 

In our modern-day context, activation of our faith should be taking place all the time within community. If we're equipped on Sundays, then what are we going to do to activate what we've learned? Activation can take place in our own time with God, in small group/discipleship settings, corporate gatherings, and as we do life together as Followers of Jesus. There was fluidity to the way Jesus discipled; it was all-encompassing. Sundays can be a part of that, if you take what you learned and do something with it, but that's entirely up to you.

We Are One

We are ONE body with different functions. If we could stop talking about who's right and who's wrong when it comes to "styles" or "models" of church, and actually just start doing the work of the ministry, we'd start to see more of His Kingdom bring light into the darkness. If we could stop comparing ourselves amongst ourselves and actually start loving one another, we'd begin to see a lot more unity in the church. If we could open our eyes and see that we are all ONE body with many DIFFERENT parts, whether we execute the Gospel through the equipping and making of disciples in a house church, mega church, underground church or community church, we'd get a lot more done. We'd stop hurting one another, and instead, learn from each other.

Often, when we’ve been hurt in the church or disagree with they way someone else expresses the local church in their setting, we can swing our beliefs to align with another extreme. The problem with extremes is that we begin to live in reaction to what we don't like instead of being led by the Holy Spirit into everything we ourselves are called to, without judgment of others and their method of spreading the Gospel. 

So What Is The Fruit Of Your Life?

Dad and Mom baptizing Giles. 

Are people becoming disciples? Are they being transformed around you and walking in their identity? Are they discipling others? Are you being transformed and walking in your identity? Are the lost coming home? Are you seeing signs, wonders and miracles following those who believe? If you can answer "yes" to all of the above, then great! Keep lifting up your eyes and stay about your Father's business in the lane to which He's called you.

Meet together, however and wherever you may gather as a church - movie theaters, homes, gymnasiums, parks, schools, beaches, rooftops, warehouses, state-of-the-art auditoriums, and the like. It doesn't really matter as long as the Gospel is being preached and people are doing life together in the "slow burn" of the discipleship journey, and we are finding ourselves, and others, becoming more like Christ and transforming society as we see the Day He comes again approaching.

“19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” - Hebrews 10:19-25 NIV

LOVED People LOVE People

When Paul and I were first married, I remember a particular time where I was SO mad at him. We lived in Maroubra, a beach in Sydney, Australia at the time. That particular morning I was taking a walk during the sunrise and praying which was my ritual at the time. I was venting to God and spouting of all of the justifications for my anger when the Holy Spirit cut me off. "Andi, I only require you to love Paul as much as I love Him."

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I remember yelling at the air, head tilted towards the sky, "THAT'S IMPOSSIBLE!!!"

And Jesus replied, "Yes, but loved people, love people."

It is impossible to love others and serve others unless we first let ourselves be loved. It is impossible because we need Jesus love in us, permeating our lives to love others.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. - 1 John 4:19-21 NIV

As verse 19 says in 1 John 4, we have the ability to love others because we ourselves are first loved.  What is the premise for this love? How do we receive it?

"7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us." - 1 John 4:7-12 NIV

Now to some of you this may seem elementary, but let's go there anyway. To receive this love, we must be born of God, or "born again". God delights in hitting the restart button of your life, that's why it's called being born again. When we receive Him, we get to start over! We are made new and the slate of sin is wiped clean! God made it possible for us to receive His love by showing His love among us through His Son. God took His word (John 1:14), wrapped it in flesh and sent it to earth in the form of His Son, Jesus. He was here, in flesh and blood and He felt what it's like to live, love, and overcome.  He gets you. He feels you. He's walked a mile in your shoes.

Now a big key comes next in verse 9 of 1 John 4,"He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him."

That we might live THROUGH Him. At first we receive Jesus as a conscious decision, but then what? Sometimes we have no idea how to live our lives THROUGH Him. What does that even mean?

Take a pair of glasses for example, when you put them on, you can see clearly again as you look through their lenses. Well to live a life with 20/20 vision, you need to put on Jesus and live your life through Him.

How?

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Well a few simple tips would be to start by reading the whole book of John - this guy loved Jesus something crazy. He walked as a son and a friend knowing he was loved and intrinsically part of the family.

Next I would suggest reading through 1 John and 2 John. In particular study chapter 4 of 1 John. Dig deep. Ask God to show you how to live IN His love and THROUGH His life.

Practically you could also order a "Journible" online (I got mine on amazon), and I would recommend the book of John or the Journible including 1, 2 and 3 John if it's a deeper revelation of love your seeking. It's an amazing and simple journal where you write out the word of God on one side of the page and then write your revelation on the other page.

How great would it be for your 2016 to be a year marked by love?

Loved People, love people and make the love of God known.

Responsibility = Your Ability To Respond

A week and a half ago I was in South Africa and couldn't sleep. It wasn't the jet lag, it was this particular line that kept repeating itself in my mind and heart,

"Responsibility is your ability to respond. Responsibility is your ability to respond. Responsibility is your ability to respond..."

Around and around it went. It seemed as though the Holy Spirit was trying to bore something deep inside of my heart. I shot up in my bed, "Okay! I hear you! I'm responding! What do you want to say to me?"

For nights on end, God began to download several things to me, but all of them going straight back to the position of our hearts.

God has made you powerful. Powerful enough to reject or receive Him. Powerful enough to walk with our without Him. Powerful enough to respond to Him and His words or not. It comes down to your free will and what or who your will is submitted to, your way or Gods way?

You see, our heart issues and the state of our heart is completely our responsibility. Often we'd like to blame those around us, circumstance, upbringing, our environment and even God, for not flourishing in life, but the honest truth is that we are responsible for the state of our hearts. Out of the abundance of the heart, our mouths speak - so what's been coming out of your heart? Whatever bubbles out of your mouth is telling of what is deep within you.

Our hearts are likened to a garden that we have the responsibility to tend to. Don't believe me? Well, take Jesus at his word then.

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Matthew 13:3b-9 &18-23 NLT“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds. 4 As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. 5 Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. 8 Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted! 9 Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

18 “Now listen to the explanation of the parable about the farmer planting seeds: 19 The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts. 20 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. 21 But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. 22 The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced. 23 The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”

The purpose of soil in agriculture is to receive and cultivate the seed until it grows into it's intended matter and serves it purpose on the earth whether its vegetation, trees that produce oxygen, food, etc. Well, if our heart is likened to soil, then it's purpose is to receive the seed that God scatters amongst us through His word, messages you hear, time with Him listening to His voice, Godly leadership, and so on. The state of our heart determines the wellbeing of the seed and it's ability to produce 30, 60 or 100 times the DNA that is within that seed. God wants to entrust you with more, but you have a responsibility to tend to your heart.

If we wallow in unforgiveness, bitterness or offense for too long and don't deal with issues that God has  been allowing to come to the surface for weeks, months, or years (because He gives us the grace to deal with them in season), our hearts will begin to harden and we'll begin to self-protect. Then, when "seed" is thrown out into our lives, we will despise it and reject it, not understanding all that God wants to give us.

“Offense makes a terrible house guest. It evicts what you previously valued and invites in what before you would never have entertained.”Charlotte Gambill

When we cultivate and take responsibility for our hearts, God can entrust us with more. Often we just have to wake up to the ability we have to respond.

We can respond to life with:

  • Forgiveness - Cancelling a debt that someone owes you spiritually, physically, mentally or emotionally that they will never be able to pay you.
  • Repentance - Turning from our way and truly submitting our WHOLE lives (not just our big toe), to God.
  • Gentleness - To be gentle is: "not harsh or severe." Are you able to respond to life in such a manner?
  • Patience - “The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble or suffering without getting angry or upset.” - Um, yeah. We're all working on this one.
  • Love - It is the standard at which Jesus gave His life for us and the standard we are required to give to one another.

You have the ability to respond:

  • To His goodness - It's His goodness that leads us to repentance, rather than rules, law, expectations or regulations.
  • To His invitation - For relationship, more, a flourishing life.
  • To His call - Don't feel like you have a call? Just respond to Jesus' famous last words and you'll change the world with that calling, "Go and make disciples!"
  • To rise up - Whether you feel like it or not, it's your responsibility.
  • To His love - I always say "Loved people love people," so will you let God love you because he longs to have every part of your heart?
  • With what God gives you - Everything you have is a stewardship responsibility, so how will you respond with what He has placed in your hands: children, money, gifts, abilities, time, family, relationships, etc.?
  • To what happens to you - This one is hard because so many difficult, painful, and awful things have happened to many of us, hardening our hearts, yet God still gives us the ability to soften our hearts. Facing the pain and choosing to forgive is always key, even if you don't feel like it.
  • To God's word - He has given us so much through His word, but how will we respond to it?
  • To fear - Yes, fear. Will you let it rule you or will you respond with faith and love?

And so much more!

Abraham's response to his wife Sarah’s negativity and unbelief in the seeming delay of God’s promise of a son landed them with an Ishmael, before they had Isaac. One child represents their way, the other child represents God's way, and both had to do with their response.

In your life, are you producing Ishmael's or are you allowing God to bring about the Isaac’s? Are you willing to take the time to cultivate your heart and bring about the good things God is trying to produce in your life that will have a lasting generational impact. You are responsible.

You have the ability to respond, so how will you use your freedom?

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